WASHINGTON (WV News) — U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito has had a busy summer, from doing extensive work in the energy sector to honing in on West Virginia’s broadband issues.
In June, Capito announced that more than $1.2 billion in Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) Program funding would be heading to the Mountain State in an attempt to connect more than 270,000 serviceable locations in the state to the internet.
She said that while this process has been long and complex, she’s confident that with this new funding, the state can better tackle the issue at hand.
“We’ve already started,” Capito said. “The FCC came out with a map, and our Broadband Council and folks who have been working with that looked and said ‘There are 120 locations that say they’re served where we know they’re inadequately served. A lot of people launched challenges to that, and 86,000 of those were accepted. We’re ahead on the mapping issue. ...
“The Broadband Council ... has been working on a deployment plan for years. ... We have a strategic plan that’s going forward. It will be looked at by the Department of Commerce and the NTIA (National Telecommunications and Information Administration). The head of the NTIA came and did a personal visit, and was really complimentary of how ready West Virginia is to be ready to deploy this.”
Capito said that the money likely won’t be deployed until after the start of 2024, and she’s feeling very good about the state’s future with broadband.
Meanwhile last week, Capito was one of more than three dozen senators who called for the Environmental Protection Agency to withdraw proposed regulations for power plants that the lawmakers deem harmful.
A total of 39 senators — all Republicans — wrote to the EPA, stating that its proposed “Clean Power Act 2.0,” first introduced in May, is unlawful because it requires generation shifting, which means forcing power plants to change from fossil fuels to lower-carbon fuels in order to reduce emissions.
Capito told WV News that generation shifting is not within the EPA’s authority under the Supreme Court’s 2022 ruling in the case West Virginia vs. EPA.
“[That case] basically said that the Clean Power Act of the Obama administration went well beyond the boundaries of what Congress had intended,” Capito said.
“I think this is just a repeat by this administration, coming back and trying to get around Congress’s will in this area of clean air.
“They regulate beyond the power plant, and the new regulations they came out with on power generation basically say that by 2032, there are no coal [plants], and by 2036, there are no natural gas [plants] unless you have carbon capture, which is something aspirational at this point. ...”
“Not only does it damage and hurt our state tremendously — jobs, economy, affordability, reliability and everything else — what does it do to the country? It doesn’t have a realistic view. ... It’s an answer to the president’s green agenda. I don’t think it’s well thought out, and I think it violates the will of Congress,” Capito said.
In the last week, Capito, a ranking member of the Senate’s Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, has seen progress on other energy issues.
Last week, the Senate passed the National Defense Authorization Act, which contained Capito’s nuclear energy bill, the ADVANCE Act. The ADVANCE Act, she said, aims to expand nuclear energy and set it as a major part of the country’s future energy policy.
“There is a very specific piece in there that I think was very appropriate in West Virginia, in that it would accelerate the use of industrial sites or former power plant sites for small nuclear,” Capito said. “[In the future], we’re going to have bigger needs for energy generation and we’re going to need more nuclear and hydrogen as well, so I think if we can be the global leader in nuclear technology and use those former sites and newer technology with a much smaller footprint. ... I think it has a way to be a job preserver in those areas that either have [power plants] closed or slated to close. ... I think it’s a win for West Virginia. I don’t think it replaces our coal or natural gas, because I think the appetites are going to be huge, and we’re going to need everything.”
Capito also spoke about energy permitting reform, something that she and her colleagues have been working on for some time. Capito said she has four parameters for good permitting: Being “agnostic” as to what the project is, having more timelines, having judicial review so lawsuits can’t constantly be filed and, finally, reforming how the permits are obtained.
“It doesn’t seem like this administration is serious about it because of the rules they’ve put out surrounding the last permitting reform, which we believe doesn’t jibe with the spirit of the law, which is to streamline regulations and make sure they move quickly and efficiently,” Capito said. “Permitting covers a lot. It’s not just a coal plant or pipeline. It’s an industrial site. It’s a wind farm or solar farm. They have to be able to cite transmission lines to be able to disseminate electricity. ...
“For broadband, you have to put towers up, and that has to go through the permitting process. ... There are a lot of varied interests that want to see permitting make sense. Opponents of permitting reform are trying to say we’re trying to skirt environmental regulations. That’s not the deal at all here. ... It’s just moving the process quicker.”