CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The co-chairman of a legislative panel on Marcellus Shale gas drilling said Monday a proposed bill gives state leaders a chance to show they have the "political will and fortitude" to beef up regulation of the booming industry.
Delegate Tim Manchin, D-Marion, said he hopes his committee will finalize a bill Wednesday, perhaps setting the stage for Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to seek passage of the measure during a special session before the end of the year.
But it remains possible, Manchin said, that industry opposition will doom the legislation, as it has in each of the last two regular sessions. Testifying at a U.S. Senate field hearing chaired by his cousin, Sen. Joe Manchin, Delegate Manchin said failure this time would be the last straw for him on the issue.
"If the industry uses its vast arsenal of lobbyists and other means to delay or defeat a meaningful bill, you won't have to come back here to hear about it, because I'll be coming to Washington to ask for your intervention to protect our citizens and our beloved West Virginia hills," Delegate Manchin said.
Delegate Manchin made his remarks against the backdrop of a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing that appeared designed at least in part to argue against increased U.S. Environmental Protection Agency involvement in the growing controversy over Marcellus Shale drilling.
Sen. Manchin was the only committee member who attended the hearing, held at the Robert C. Byrd U.S. District Courthouse in Charleston, and in chairing the event his comments and questions repeatedly returned to his desire to minimize any permitting or enforcement role for EPA.
In his opening remarks, Sen. Manchin said he believes that the industry needs a regulatory system "driven by the states" and that his major concern is protecting state "primacy" over drilling rules.
"Then if we don't do our job, then I believe EPA has a right to move," Sen. Manchin said.
Sen. Manchin echoed the rhetoric he uses in deriding EPA's crackdown on mountaintop removal, saying, "We're not looking for a handout. We're looking for a work permit."
Tomblin general counsel Kurt Dettinger also referenced EPA's mining policies, saying in prepared testimony that the state's approach to gas-drilling rules will be "neither punitive nor based on fear or political ideology."
And Randy Huffman, secretary of the state Department of Environmental Protection, also took a shot at EPA, saying the federal government's job shouldn't include "perpetuating the myth" that states cannot regulate mining or drilling.