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Environment groups criticize coal, gas legislation


The State Journal

CHARLESTON — Representatives of several environmental groups say the West Virginia Legislature has allowed the coal and natural gas industries to relax some environmental standards without allowing the people most affected by those changes to have any input.

Three bills are on the groups’ watch list:

House Bill 2506 has passed both houses and is waiting for the governor’s signature or his veto. The groups say the bill, which changes the way water quality is calculated and allows mixing zones, would allow more cancer-causing materials to be dumped into streams. The West Virginia Environmental Council has given the governor petitions asking him to veto the bill.

HB 2811 is the amended Aboveground Storage Tank Act, which would exempt tanks holding fluids used by the fossil fuel industry, particularly in fracking gas wells. The governor approved that bill Tuesday.

Senate Bill 687 deals with coal mine safety and environmental protections. The groups say SB 687 “would make our water quality standards among the weakest in the nation in protecting stream life. The bill changes the state’s narrative water quality standards, abandoning a scientifically backed method for detecting harm to a stream’s biological health.”

That bill was up for a second reading in the House of Delegates on Thursday.

At a news conference Thursday, before the state Senate and the House of Delegates met for their floor sessions, John Street, legislative coordinator for the West Virginia Environmental Council, said the three pieces of legislation are “a concerted attack on water in our streams — the streams and rivers of West Virginia.”

Street said legislators do not consider fishermen, kayakers, canoeists and other people who use the streams for recreation or drinking water to be stakeholders in the debate.

“We need to hold these legislators, these alleged officials, accountable,” he said.

Gary Zuckett, executive director of the West Virginia Citizen Action Group, said the coal and gas industries are trying to externalize the costs of environmental protection, meaning taxpayers would pick up the tab.

Natalie Thompson, executive director of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, said, “These bills are just simply wealth at the expense of health.”

Angie Rosser, executive director of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition, said SB 687 was mostly written by the coal industry. She said state residents and environmental groups were left out of negotiations with legislators to reach its final form.

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