Latest News, WVPA Sharing

After much debate, water bill advances


The Register-Herald

CHARLESTON, W.Va.  — After lengthy debate, the House passed a controversial bill Wednesday that would change the way the state Department of Environmental Protection calculates discharges in the water.

Passing on a 63-37 vote, southern West Virginia delegates George Ambler, R-Greenbrier; Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier; Mick Bates, D-Raleigh; Shirley Love, D-Fayette; and Ricky Moye, D-Raleigh, were among the no votes.

Supporters said HB 2506 does not change water quality standards and caps under those standards would still be in effect.

 Opponents said it weakens the measurement, expressing concerns that more pollutants would be present in the water supply.

Delegate Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, said the measure changes the way the DEP calculates the flow of water used to determine effluent limits for a company by using a “harmonic mean” approach instead of the current method, which Hanshaw said is more conservative. He said West Virginia’s neighboring states use this measurement.

Under the current calculation, it takes the seven lowest flowing days past a point in a 10-year period, Hanshaw said. Under the harmonic mean calculation, it’s an average based on the “true flow past a particular discharge point,” Hanshaw said.

The bill also allows for overlapping mixing zones — meaning two companies can have discharge points near one another. However, he said it must still meet water quality standards.

He said the bill does not allow permit holders to discharge anything above existing water quality standards.

“There is no change to the water quality standards themselves,” Hanshaw said. “The hard cap on water quality in a body of water remains unchanged.”

During Wednesday’s floor debate, Delegate Linda Longstreth, D-Marion, asked Hanshaw if any manufacturing companies actively looking to locate to the state say they need this change. Hanshaw said the biggest application of the bill is development of Brownfield sites. The bill could take a facility that is shuttered or scaled back and would like to lease a portion of a facility or an existing industry site but could not occupy it because another facility has its own discharge point.

Delegate Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio, said he hadn’t heard any evidence that the bill would bring jobs and said the bill weakens the measurements that would allow more carcinogens and non-carcinogens into the water.

“Here’s what we’ve been sold for decades and it doesn’t matter who’s in power. … We are told, ‘just trust us.’ Just trust us. We don’t need coal mine safety. Then, a tragedy happens. We don’t need workers’ rights. Then, a tragedy happens. On this bill today, we are told, ‘just trust us.’ The water will be clean and the jobs will come raining down. I like evidence. I like facts. I am waiting on the evidence of when the jobs will come and how.”

Delegate Mark Zatezalo, R-Hancock, believes the bill would be good for the state and would not harm water quality. Otherwise, he would be against it.

“I won’t stand here and tell you it will bring all kinds of jobs. All things being equal, there is competition for jobs in this area and there are opportunities to do things manufacturing-wise. I can’t say it’s absolutely going to but I tell you this, we are in competition. We need a tax base. We need to do things we haven’t done in a while,” Zatezalo said.

However, Delegate Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, disagreed.

“I for one think it’s time to stop believing this tired old lie that the only thing we are good enough for in West Virginia, the only jobs we can attract, the only economic development we can have in West Virginia, the only growth we deserve here, will be at the expense of citizens’ health and safety, at the expense of something as essential as the water flowing from their tap. I refuse to believe that. I think we are better than that,” Pushkin said.

Pushkin said the bill is an attempt to raise the amount of toxins in the water way and a vote against the bill would not be a vote against jobs.

Both he and Delegate Barbara Fleischauer, D-Monongalia, mentioned the Freedom Industries chemical leak that contaminated the water supply for hundreds of thousands of residents in West Virginia, saying the result of the bill is the same.

“It’s been referred that this has nothing to do with that. It’s true. This is a permissible discharge and a chemical spill is not a permissible discharge. However, it’s still the same — contaminants in the drinking water. The results are still the same,” Pushkin said.

Delegate Shirley Love, D-Fayette, is concerned that the bill could negatively affect the whitewater rafting industry if someone in the river were to get sick from a hypothetical leak of chemicals.

“Do you realize what this could do to whitewater rafting? That industry? It would be devastating not just to that industry but to West Virginia,” he said.

Before the bill went to vote, Hanshaw reiterated that the bill doesn’t lower water quality standards.

“From the outside, let’s get that clear,” he said. “This is not what this bill is about. It doesn’t lower water quality standards because there are standards protecting the drinking water for every West Virginian there today. They will be there tomorrow if the bill is adopted.”

After the floor session, Bates said he wishes the Legislature would focus more of time on addressing the budget gap, rather than bills like this one.

“I am unsure as to why at this point in the session, we are spending hours on the floor debating a highly technical bill that was single-referenced to the Judiciary that does nothing to balance a half billion dollar hole in our budget or create one job,” Bates said.

Moye said he thinks the end result is a piece of legislation that allows more discharges into the waterways.

“Now, I saw the bill as a jobs bill in that if we don’t have clean water, people aren’t going to want to come here,” Moye said after the floor session. “I know others had the other opinion that with this, we can bring in more industries in a few areas and I don’t doubt that’s so, but yet, we don’t want to preclude others from coming here because the water isn’t good. We don’t want to hurt our rafting industry. I think it’s better safe than sorry, so I voted against it.”

See more from The Register-Herald

Comments are closed.

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

And get our latest content in your inbox

Invalid email address