CHARLESTON - Both the Republican and Democratic candidates for governor agree development of West Virginia's natural gas resources will shape the state's economic future for years to come, yet coal must continue to play a part.
However, the two differ on how that can be accomplished.
The incumbent Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and Republican challenger Bill Maloney each have outlined a state energy policy for West Virginia. The plans include horizontal drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus and Utica shale deposits, coal mining and other energy options.
The West Virginia Legislature passed the Horizontal Well Act by a substantial majority. The bill established regulations for the emerging Marcellus Shale natural gas industry in the state, such as permit and regulatory rules . The bill protected property owners, promoted development and protected the environment, officials said.
''We have a great opportunity with natural gas, and West Virginia is ahead of surrounding states when it comes to drilling in the Marcellus and Utica shale because of legislation I led the way on during a 2011 special session,'' Tomblin said. ''Companies are comfortable making investments because they know the rules, and our communities are protected from potentially harmful impacts. I expect to see continued development in that industry.''
Maloney said the administration waited too long to act, but he was glad it finally did.
''I don't necessarily agree with all the finer points of the new rules, but the last thing we need to do is change anything at this point,'' he said. ''We need to assess how effective the recently implemented policies have been in addressing the use of horizontal drilling in our state.
''If done correctly, West Virginia can be a model for other states to follow,'' Maloney said.
Maloney said the state needs to consider lowering the severance tax rates to make West Virginia more competitive to attract natural gas investment and jobs.
''We need a balanced approach to be sure the citizens of West Virginia benefit from this energy resource extracted here to benefit everyone now and for future generations,'' Maloney said.
Both men feel natural gas should be promoted as a transportation fuel to power motor vehicles.
Tomblin recently signed an executive order establishing the Natural Gas Vehicle Task Force to assess the feasibility of transitioning the state's vehicle fleet to natural gas and developing an infrastructure to support compressed natural gas vehicles.
"With our state being one of the leading producers of natural gas in the nation, it is important for us to explore the feasibility of using this resource to fuel our state's transportation needs,'' he said. ''In addition to expanding the market for natural gas, we would lessen our dependence on foreign oil, save taxpayer money and create new jobs."
Tomblin's task force will perform an analysis of the cost savings; research and analyze the potential for the state to operate natural gas fueling stations; and explore interest in partnerships with and among natural gas producers and others to expand natural gas fueling infrastructure and investing in natural gas fuel solutions; along with a number of other duties.
Maloney also has proposed conversion of the state fleet to natural gas. He supports expansion into private sectors.
Maloney said the state can play an active role by changing its vehicle fleet over to natural gas, using state right of ways for gas lines to make it easier for private fueling stations to be constructed.
West Virginia leaders have accused President Barack Obama and his administration of waging a war on coal through stricter environmental regulations on mining and burning it in coal-fired power plants. Politicians are distancing themselves from the president, who lost West Virginia in 2008 to Republican John McCain.
A salvo by the Environmental Protection Agency is the utility Maximum Achievable Control Technology rule requiring coal and oil-fired power plants to reduce mercury, metallic and organic toxin and acid emissions. called the utility MACT - rule requiring coal and oil-fired power plants reduce emissions of mercury, metallic and organic toxins and acids. A Republican-supported resolution to prevent enforcement was rejected this week in the Senate.
''West Virginia's coal industry is vital to our present and our future, and that's why I will continue to fight for our miners and against over-reaching federal regulations,'' Tomblin said. ''We successfully intervened on behalf of Arch Coal's Spruce permit, and a federal judge agreed with us that the EPA (the federal Environmental Protection Agency) had exceeded its authority.
''This is why we must continue to fight the Obama administration's EPA and their efforts to kill our jobs and economy,'' Tomblin said.
Maloney said it should be the job of the West Virginia governor to fight for and promote coal. The state also needs to legally challenge any action taken by the Obama administration that will hurt coal miners and other EPA rulings that hurt business, he said.
''The low cost, abundant, reliable power that coal provides has led our nation to greatness,'' Maloney said. ''If Obama is still president (after the next election), we will do everything we can to make sure the nation knows the importance of coal to our national economy and to preserving our American way of life.''
Maloney said there is also a place for geothermal, biomass, wind, hydro, solar and anything else feasible to be promoted as possible energy sources.
''The market place, along with supply and demand, will decide the mix of energy sources which will power our next generations,'' he said. ''We need to be in a leadership role given our vast resources instead of being a follower.''
Tomblin also is open to other forms of energy as the state is positioned to take advantage of a number of opportunities.
''West Virginia's fossil fuels will always be a vital part of the nation's energy production, but we should also remain aware of new opportunities that can add to that,'' he said. ''Some parts of the state are well-positioned for wind turbines, geothermal energy may be an option in some instances, and we should always look for ways to use our abundant natural resources such as timber.''