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Public hearing decries relaxing WV water quality standards


The State Journal

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Members of the West Virginia House of Delegates judiciary committee held a public hearing Monday, Feb. 27 on a controversial bill that would relax the state’s water quality standards.

House Bill 2506 would change the way stream flows are measured and change the way pollutant levels are calculated in West Virginia’s streams. The changes could effectively allow industry to put more pollutants into streams.

The legislation is being pushed by the West Virginia Manufacturers Association and others who say the changes are needed to help state industry. But opponents say the risk of stream contamination possible under relaxed rules isn’t worth it.

The bill also would allow the combination of “mixing zones,” the areas of a waterway where a discharge occurs.

But it would do more than that.

Currently, the authority to make and enforce rules on water quality standards lies with the state Department of Environmental Protection. A major change to that authority is written into the first line of the proposed new code.

As proposed, the bill would take away DEP’s sole authority to “promulgate” rules and replace that authority with the words “propose rules for legislative approval.” The change effectively would mean that any new proposed DEP water quality standards would have to be OK’d by the state Legislature.

At Monday’s public hearing, 25 people spoke against the bill, while seven spoke in favor of it.

Chris Hamilton, senior vice president of the West Virginia Coal Association, said the water quality standards permitted under the proposed legislation were approved by the Obama administration. Coal Association Vice President Jason Bostic said the changes were needed to counteract eight years of “a brutal federal administration” and merely bring West Virginia’s water standards in line with neighboring states.

But most of those who spoke on Monday disagreed. Amanda Pitzer, executive director of Friends of the Cheat, said the Cheat River is just now beginning to recover from massive pollution in 1995 caused by planned, permitted operations that violated water standards.

“We’re tripping over ourselves to allow more pollution in our rivers,” Pitzer said. “Stop choosing profits over people.”

David Lillard, a Jefferson County businessman and special projects manager for the West Virginia Rivers Coalition, said most eastern panhandle business owners are against relaxing stream standards.

“We don’t buy the lie that businesses will flock to West Virginia if we make easier to pollute,” Lillard said. He said eastern panhandle business owners, who are currently providing much of the state’s tax revenue, with “keep moving West, and not stop until we reach the Ohio (River).”

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