The West Virginia Senate Thursday passed a rules bill that contains a controversial regulation that sets limits on the amount of pollution that can be discharged into the state’s rivers and streams.
The Senate voted 20-12 to approve Senate Bill 163. The bill contained a series of environmental rules including the state’s Water Quality Standards.
The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) proposed the Water Quality Standards rule last July. The agency proposed adopting 60 of the 94 updates to human health criteria the U.S. EPA released in 2015.
The proposed pollutant updates -- two-thirds of which make it so less of certain chemicals can be discharged into rivers and streams and one-third of which loosen pollution levels -- have proved controversial.
In November, the West Virginia Manufacturers Association asked the Legislative Rulemaking Review Committee to remove the updates. The trade group also asked DEP to hold public meetings to gather more state-specific data that could affect the pollution limits set in the regulation.
Following a public meeting hosted by DEP, the Senate Energy, Industry and Mining Committee in January voted to add the 60 pollutant updates back into the rule.
During a 15 minute floor recess last Friday, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to once again remove the updates and gave industry more time to do its own study. Under the committee substitute, DEP must propose updates to the human health criteria in the rule before April 1, 2020 and put them out for public comment. The agency will submit the proposed updates for consideration by the 2021 legislative session.
Speaking on the Senate floor before the vote, Judiciary Chairman Charles Trump (R-Morgan) characterized the committee substitute as a “reasonable compromise.”
Environmental advocates disagree. In a letter sent earlier this week, the West Virginia Rivers Coalition and 23 other environmental and conservation groups said industry already had three years to present new evidence. They argue not adopting the proposed updates means the state is relying on standards issued in the 1980s and 90s.
They also said the committee substitute created by the Judiciary Committee was unfairly assembled. At a stakeholder meeting held prior to the vote, West Virginia Rivers Coalition Executive Director Angie Rosser said environmental adovcates were told to limit participation. Industry brought more than 30 representatives.
"We appreciated your apology relating it was not your intent to set up the meeting dynamic in the way it turned out, and your stated commitment that we would be afforded the opportunity to bring forth scientific experts when the committee would take up the bill," she stated. "It turned out we were not afforded that opportunity. As a result, you and your committee did not take sworn testimony from public health experts or DEP.
The House still needs to take up the measure.