A mountaintop removal bill passed by the Senate 34-0 on Thursday is an effort to reach a compromise with all sides, the chairman of a Finance subcommittee that worked on the bill said.
"I don't think it's going to make any side completely happy," said Sen. Jeffrey Kessler, D-Marshall. "That's usually the sign of a good bill."
The bill passed the Senate and was sent to the House of Delegates about an hour after it advanced from the Finance Committee.
It repeals provisions in a controversial 1998 law that expanded the amount of streams that could be destroyed by valley fills from 250 to 480 acres before coal companies would have to mitigate the damages.
It also creates two new offices within the Division of Environmental Protection:
An Office of Explosives and Blasting, to conduct pre-blast surveys and to investigate claims of blasting damage. It mandates that companies must notify occupants within 0.7 mile of the blast site that they are eligible for pre-blast surveys.
The bill also establishes fines for damages caused by blasting. On a third offense, the DEP would issue a cessation order that would prevent the operator from conducting additional blasting.
An Office of Coalfield Community Development. In order to obtain a surface mining permit, the operator would have to develop a plan for post-mining economic development in the affected communities.
Operators would also have to make a number of disclosures about the mountaintop removal project, including the amount of land to be disturbed, the time span for the project, blasting plans, and post-mining land use.
"The whole concept of this bill is, we hope once you've taken, you'll leave something behind to help the economic development of the community," Kessler said.
Also Thursday, the Finance Committee originated a bill that would eliminate jail penalties for first-offense driving under the influence.
The intent is to control regional jail and public defender costs with alternative sentencing for the 11,000 people charged with first-offense DUI each year.
"First-offense DUI is costing the state of West Virginia millions and millions of dollars," Senate Finance Chairman Oshel Craigo, D-Putnam, said.
Eliminating the jail penalty would also eliminate the requirement that those charged with first-offense DUI have access to legal representation.