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House approves controversial water standards bill

By RUSTY MARKS

The State Journal

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A controversial bill that would change the way calculations are made to the discharge of pollutants into streams is now on its way to the West Virginia Senate.

The House of Delegates voted 63-37 Wednesday, March 1 to approve a bill being pushed by the West Virginia Manufacturer’s Association that would allow the state Department of Environmental protection to use less stringent measurement standards in calculating pollution discharge into state streams. The bill also would allow the combination of mixing zones where pollutants mix with the rest of the water supply, a move that would let more than one company discharge pollutants in the same general area.

Delegate Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, vice chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, explained the bill would allow discharge calculation methods approved by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, and would bring West Virginia’s water quality calculations in line with neighboring states.

But those who oppose the new calculation methods, including several state environmental groups, say the new methods could increase the amount of pollutants businesses are allowed to dump into rivers.

“(The Manufacturers Association) wouldn’t be asking for it if it didn’t allow far more discharge into the water,” said Delegate Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha.

He said he was tired of hearing that economic development in West Virginia had to come at the expense of the health of residents. “Protecting water is about economic development,” he said.

Delegate Shirley Love, D-Fayette, said relaxing the way pollution is calculated could have a devastating effect on Fayette County’s whitewater rafting industry. He said rafting is a $10 million business in the county.

Delegate Barbara Fleischauer, D-Monongalia, read a letter from the Morgantown Utility Board opposing the bill. Even though the new calculation methods would make it easier for the utility board’s sewer treatment plants to meet water quality rules, the board was afraid the change would allow more potentially dangerous chemicals in the water supply.

Hanshaw said only the method of calculating discharge would change under the bill. He said the state’s overall water quality standards would remain the same.

At a recent public hearing, 25 people spoke against the bill, while seven spoke in favor. Pushkin presented a petition signed by 500 more opponents to the House of Delegates on Wednesday.

Delegates voted largely – but not exclusively – along party lines in approving the bill. Republicans generally voted in favor of the bill, while Democrats largely voted against.

However, six Republicans voted against the proposed legislation. Five Democrats and Delegate Rupie Phillips, I-Logan, voted in favor.

Republican delegates George Ambler, R-Greenbier; Tony Lewis, R-Preston; Riley Moore, R-Jefferson; Matthew Rohrbach, R-Cabell; Jill Upson, R-Jefferson and Brad White, R-Kanawha, voted against the bill.

Democratic delegates Kenneth Hicks, D-Wayne; Justin Marcum, D-Mingo; Tim Miley, D-Harrison; Dave Pethtel, D-Wetzel and Robert Thompson, D-Wayne, voted in favor of the legislation.

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