West Virginia Leading Bipartisan Support for Nuclear Energy
Posted in Nuclear Energy
West Virginia Leading Bipartisan Support for Nuclear Energy

West Virginia has long been an energy production and policy leader for the nation.  As goes West Virginia, so goes energy policy in the United States.  As a bellwether for where energy in this country is headed, many eyes are turning to see what leadership and guidance West Virginia will provide as many states begin to look toward a mix of traditional energies along with newer and cleaner forms of energy.

West Virginia is now an all-of-the-above energy trailblazer.  Many states have found meeting “all-of-the-above” difficult as some energy production forms are difficult for them.  West Virginia, with its many natural blessings and hard-working citizens, is finding and developing all forms of energy.  These efforts include coal, oil, natural gas, wind, solar, nuclear, geothermal, battery storage, hydrogen, and more!

As West Virginia looks to the next form of energy which can bring strong benefits to the state and its workers, West Virginia policymakers are showing strong bipartisan leadership in developing and supporting nuclear energy in and around the state.  

Support for nuclear energy in the state arose when Russia’s invasion of Ukraine revealed extreme fragility in energy markets and the United States’ heavy reliance on foreign supply chains for energy production.  The nuclear supply chain is one the United States has the resources and capability to handle entirely domestically, but those efforts require restarting several operations and bringing forth new legislation to support the nuclear fuel cycle and new projects. 

Knowing that nuclear energy can be a source of firm and clean power which can support energy and electricity markets for generations, Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) included many extremely helpful provisions for nuclear in the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA).  We previously covered those provisions here.  Following the passage of the IRA, the West Virginia Legislature took the lead and lifted the moratorium on nuclear energy here in the state, and we previously covered that legislation and the great opportunity it presents for the state here.

Since the moratorium has lifted, West Virginia leaders such as Speaker of the House Roger Hanshaw (R–Clay) have furthered efforts for nuclear energy with announcing efforts of collaboration with Virginia for small modular reactor (SMR) development and deployment.

During the 2023 Regular Session, the West Virginia Legislature passed House Concurrent Resolution 11 which establishes an education consortium of West Virginia’s institutions of higher education, led by Marshall University and West Virginia University (including WVU Institute of Technology), to inspire, develop, and scale critical solutions to West Virginia’s most pressing challenges and opportunities related to the development of nuclear energy technologies, while also identifying areas for public-private partnerships that can help further facilitate those developments; and the consortium is to identify and recommend nuclear policies to the Legislature that maintain West Virginia’s position as America’s energy powerhouse and ensure that West Virginia continues to play a leadership role in 21st Century energy production.  The consortium is to report findings to the Joint Committee on Government and Finance no later than December 31, 2023.

The West Virginia Legislature also passed HB 3012 in the 2023 Regular Session.  HB 3012 creates a nine-year severance tax exemption for rare earth elements and critical minerals, which includes uranium that can be later fabricated into nuclear fuel.  WVU is leading efforts on producing rare earth elements and critical minerals from acid mine drainage and mineral tailings feedstocks with at-source pollution treatment.  WVU was recently awarded $8 Million from the Department of Energy to further this program.  – “This $8 million award, using funding from my Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, will continue that legacy and help to develop the energy technologies of the future with a first-of-its-kind facility to extract and separate rare earth elements and critical minerals from acid mine drainage and mine waste,” said Senator Joe Manchin. “By deploying this innovative technology to reclaim water from mining waste, we will ensure that we are producing these materials in the cleanest way possible while addressing environmental liabilities. West Virginia and West Virginia University are continuing to lead the way in energy innovation, and I can’t wait to see how the entire nation benefits.”

The West Virginia Legislature also sought to pass HB 2896 which would create the regulatory requirements for West Virginia to become an agreement state with the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission.  With overwhelming support, HB 2896 passed the House and made its way to the Senate.  The bill saw overwhelming support in the Senate, but unfortunately it ultimately did not pass due to the lateness of the bill in the session and a fiscal note on the bill which could not be reconciled with the state budget in time.  There remains strong support for the bill to be reintroduced and passed in a future legislative session.  This bill is vital to establishing the necessary framework for West Virginia to obtain oversight responsibilities of certain radioactive materials and licensees operating in the state.  It will also bring in millions of dollars in state revenue from existing licensees and the hopefully many more to come as nuclear energy projects begin here.

Most recently, Senator Shelley Moore-Capito (R-WV), Ranking Member of the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, along with Senators Tom Carper (D-DE) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), led a bipartisan group of their colleagues in introducing the Accelerating Deployment of Versatile, Advanced Nuclear for Clean Energy (ADVANCE) Act of 2023.  Original cosponsors of Capito, Carper, and Whitehouse's bill include John Barrasso (R-WY), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Mark Kelly (D-AZ), and Jim Risch (R-ID).

“America can and should be a leader when it comes to deploying nuclear energy technologies, and this bipartisan legislation puts us on a path to achieve that goal,” Senator Capito said. “This bill prioritizes the future of American energy security by establishing commonsense policies to help deploy nuclear energy, which is a clean and reliable generation source for our nation’s electric grid. It also directs the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to create a pathway for conventional energy source sites to be repurposed and used in the future. I’m proud to lead a strong, bipartisan group of senators in introducing the ADVANCE Act, which signals an important step toward strengthening America’s nuclear energy sector.”

In the materials provided with the ADVANCE Act, a one-pager explains that “[p]reserving and expanding our nation’s use of clean and reliable nuclear energy is essential to advancing America’s energy and national security interests and achieving our environmental goals.”  It goes on to say that “[n]ew nuclear reactors are also needed to provide necessary reliability and diversity to our electric infrastructure.”  Not only does the ADVANCE Act seek to bolster nuclear energy domestically, but also abroad to support our allies and our national security – “The international community, particularly American allies, are seeking to deploy new nuclear technologies to reduce reliance on Russian energy, and specifically Rosatom - Russia’s state-owned nuclear enterprise. Exporting American nuclear technologies will benefit the domestic industrial base and fill a vacuum that could otherwise be filled by Russia and China.”

The ADVANCE Act aims to facilitate American nuclear leadership, develop and deploy new nuclear technologies, preserve existing nuclear energy, strengthen America’s nuclear fuel cycle and supply chain infrastructure, authorize funds for environmental cleanup programs, and improve the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s efficiency.  “An effective and efficient nuclear safety regulator is necessary to realize the recent, strong bipartisan Congressional support for nuclear energy. Reinvigorating America’s nuclear energy sector will create jobs, strengthen our energy and national security, reduce carbon dioxide emissions, grow our economy, and strengthen strategic domestic supply chains. The ADVANCE Act will help our nation achieve these goals.”

The ADVANCE Act also aims to support Appalachia in many ways as it recognizes energy communities which have been hit hard as businesses and operations have left, and energy transitions away from traditional sources.  The ADVANCE Act seeks to provide the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), led by Federal Co-Chair Gayle Manchin, with the ability to “provide technical assistance to, make grants to, enter into contracts with, or otherwise provide amounts to individuals or entities in the Appalachian region for projects and activities: (1) to conduct research and analysis regarding the economic impact of siting, constructing, and operating a production facility or a utilization facility at a brownfield site, including a retired fossil fuel site; (2) to assist with workforce training or retraining to perform activities relating to the siting and operation of a production facility or a utilization facility at a brownfield site, including a retired fossil fuel site; and (3) to engage with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Department of Energy, and other Federal agencies with expertise in civil nuclear energy.”

With all of the top West Virginia lawmakers and policymakers paving the way for nuclear energy to be a huge success, the stage is set for West Virginia to be a leader for advanced nuclear energy and create a true all-of-the-above energy mix which will provide the greatest opportunities and maximum growth for our energy communities and workers, whilst providing the most reliable and affordable energy and electricity to industrial and manufacturing operators, as well as all electrical customers in West Virginia.

As goes West Virginia, so goes energy policy, and our policymakers are proving that nuclear energy is a top priority.  As these efforts supporting nuclear energy advance and others arise in the state and federally, our team will be sure to keep you up-to-date and well informed.  For additional information on our team and services, please check out our firm’s Nuclear Energy web page and be sure to follow me on Twitter @AtomicAttorney.