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Manchin to West Virginia: Work Together; To EPA: Back Off

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) used an energy conference as an opportunity to urge state legislators and regulators to come to an agreement on Marcellus Shale regulatory reform, but also took a swipe at federal officials and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

"My message to our state regulatory agencies and our state legislators [is this]: Do not miss this opportunity," Manchin said. "Do not miss out on the potential that lies in the Marcellus not only for energy, but also for job creation and economic development and the rebirth of a region."

Manchin made his comments Thursday at West Virginia University's College of Law symposium, an event hosted by the law school's Center for Energy and Sustainable Development.

"Although our state legislature has not yet reached consensus on how we can best balance the potential of the Marcellus Shale with the concerns that residents have raised about its environmental effects, I know that our state won't let this opportunity go by," Manchin said.

A bipartisan panel of West Virginia lawmakers, the Joint Select Committee on Marcellus Shale (JSCMS), has been trying to reach a consensus on a plethora of regulatory issues. Issues that remain unresolved include surface owner agreements, rules for inspectors, general language surrounding permit requirements with the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and drilling issues with underground caverns (see Shale Daily, Oct. 17).

The JSCMS is scheduled to hold its next meetings Nov. 14 in the Senate Judiciary offices and Nov. 16 in the House Judiciary offices.

Manchin said he took issue with what he perceived as unnecessary interference from the EPA, and cited the agency's moves to develop national standards for pretreatment of wastewater and air emissions from shale gas operations as examples (see Shale Daily, Oct. 21; July 29).

"I truly believe that our state should be given the opportunity to regulate this resource themselves," Manchin said. "States know the needs of their people best, and I do not believe that federal regulators should step in here unless the states fail to do their jobs. We do not need the EPA regulating how we move forward on the Marcellus Shale before the states have the opportunity themselves."

Manchin also criticized the Obama administration's "demonizing" shale gas in favor of renewable energy, and touched on the unfolding scandal surrounding the now-bankrupt solar panel manufacturer Solyndra LLC (see Daily GPI, Sept. 13).

"A real plan for energy independence for America must use all of our domestic resources -- oil, coal, natural gas, geothermal, nuclear, biomass, wind, solar, hydro -- anything and everything we've got," Manchin said. "Unfortunately that is not what we see today. We see government bureaucrats tilting the scales and giving a solar energy company a half billion-dollar guaranteed loan, even when they knew the company was in trouble. We see an administration that demonizes coal and other fossil resources, ignoring the fact that these are the fuels that have always powered this nation, and that right now we have nothing to take their place."

Manchin took his criticism of the Obama administration a step further in saying it was ignoring shale gas' enormous potential.

"They're so determined to demonize fossil fuels that they ignore the vast, untapped resources waiting to be developed right here at home, which could reduce this nation's dependence on foreign oil and create good-paying American jobs," Manchin said.

But the former West Virginia governor emphasized that he still favored strong environmental protections as well.

"I have always said that we must seek a balance between our environmental concerns and our economic considerations," Manchin said. "If we are going to develop our natural gas resources, then we have to ensure that processes like [hydraulic fracturing] do not do catastrophic harm to our natural environment. We have a responsibility to our children to ensure that our air is clean, our water is clear and that our environment is no worse off than the way we found it."

Manchin said officials from an energy company had visited his office recently to discuss Marcellus development but refused to disclose the chemical content of the fracking chemicals they planned to use or guarantee that they were safe.

"I told them you can't expect West Virginians to trust you if you won't even tell them the God's honest truth about what you're putting in their land," Manchin said. "But you can expect West Virginians to be the best partners you'll ever have, who will work with you to extract the resource and find solutions instead of creating roadblocks.

"When it comes to the potential of the Marcellus Shale, I really do believe in complete transparency. We need to put our faith in companies that have proven their reliability and responsibility."

The JSCMS has so far reached agreement on 22 areas of Marcellus Shale regulatory reform. The West Virginia Legislature will convene Jan. 11 for its next 60-day legislative session.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin -- Manchin's successor -- issued an executive order in July directing the DEP to enforce several new safeguards and to issue an emergency rule over Marcellus regulations. The DEP complied by submitting an emergency rule to Secretary of State Natalie Tennant in August (see Shale Daily, Aug. 24; July 14). Tennant signed the rule on Aug. 29, putting its changes into effect for 15 months while the West Virginia legislature debates and enacts legislation to make the changes permanent.

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