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Editorial: State’s water rules should mirror feds, not be stronger

From The Exponent Telegram:

On Wednesday, the House of Delegates approved a bill that alters how discharges into state waterways are calculated.

The bill passed 63-37 after Commerce Secretary Woody Thrasher spoke in favor of the bill Monday. At that hearing, Thrasher said the new regulations would help spur development.

He said the state’s regulations are stronger than those required by the federal government, deterring manufacturers from considering the state for expansion or relocation.

“Do we lose jobs when this happens? Absolutely we lose jobs. Absolutely,” Thrasher said. “Don’t for a minute think that when you take that position you don’t send out a very strong message to future employers, whether the expansion of existing facilities or bringing in new ones, that you are not welcome.”

Opponents of the bill spoke passionately about concerns over soiling the waterways, which, thanks to high pollution standards, have recovered from the degradation of acid mine drainage and the like to nearly pristine conditions.

Larry Orr, who represented Trout Unlimited of West Virginia, criticized the bill during the hearing, saying, “Some people say, ‘The solution to pollution is dilution.’ This is hogwash. The solution to pollution is to stop the pollution.”

We agree that West Virginia’s waterways need to be protected. But it would be unwise to curtail potential economic development efforts based on methodology that exceeds the federal standards.

The bill, if passed by the Senate and signed by Gov. Jim Justice, would change when water quality is gauged. Currently, it is measured at low flow; under the bill, it would be average flow, termed “harmonic flow.” This is the practice accepted by the federal EPA.

Perhaps there was a time when the state’s waterways needed an extra layer of protection as cleanup efforts helped to restore many streams and rivers to their natural beauty.

But at a time when most would agree that state’s waterways are in good shape while the state’s economy isn’t, it would seem imprudent not to follow the federal guidelines.

Adding to the toughness of the standards puts the Mountain State at a disadvantage when compared to states that follow the federal regulations. And when West Virginia already has enough physical obstacles to overcome, adding regulatory ones just don’t make sense.

“For heaven’s sake, look around. We are 50th in health. Look around at the OxyContin problem we’ve had. You know what that stems from? A lack of a job. If you want to help the health of our citizenry, give me the opportunity to attract industry and not shoo them away,” Thrasher said Monday.

On Wednesday, the majority of the House members showed they were listening and agree. We’re hopeful the Senate and Gov. Justice follow their lead.

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