For the Environment: What was gained, what was lost this session

Yes, believe it or not, there were a couple of “gains.”

One of those was the restoration of “Category A” status to the lower 72-mile stretch of the Kanawha River, which means that that section of the Kanawha may be used as source water for drinking water facilities.  The WVEC and our allies worked hard to shepherd this rule through the process.

But there’s a bit of not-so-good news.

The bill (H.B. 2283) had made it almost all the way through the pipeline when we discovered a provision that had been slipped in by the House Judiciary Committee, reportedly at the request of the coal industry.

I say “slipped in” because it was not mentioned by the committee attorney when he explained the “committee substitute” as its consideration by the committee got underway.  Three of our friends who sit on the Judiciary Committee were also unaware of the provision until we drew their attention to it 2 1/2 weeks later.  Here is the provision:

“Provided; that the Secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection shall consider, for the 2017 triennial review, potential alternative applications for the Category A drinking water use designation to the waters of the state, taking into consideration stream flow, depth, and distance to a public water intake.”

Well, so much for transparency.

The DEP says they would be compelled to do this anyway.  But remember that the coal industry and the Manufacturers’ Association would like to see the removal of the Category A designation currently enjoyed by about 31,000 miles of streams statewide (read here about what happened during December interims).  We are therefore concerned that this provision was spelled out in the bill, and we hope you’ll keep a watchful eye on this when the time comes.

Read Ken Ward’s most recent installment in the Category A saga here.

Another “rules” bill that made it through the process was S.B. 175, which contains the rules for implementing new requirements for public water utilities to develop and submit source water protection plans.  Citizens have a role in the development and implementation of these plans; if you’re interested in learning how you can be involved, subscribe to the WV Rivers Coalition’s e-list here.

The other “gain” was passage of S.B. 352.  This is the bill that would enable the development of an affordable recycling program for businesses, by enabling them to hire a waste hauler without that hauler being required to obtain a “certificate of need.”  The bill awaits the governor’s signature.

And don’t forget that this success story was the result of just a couple of people “making a difference.”  Jeni Burns, co-founder of the West Virginia Sustainable Business Council, saw a need, enlisted the help of EEWV‘s Emmett Pepper, found sponsors, got the bill introduced in both houses, and shepherded it through the process, past multiple snags.  Way to go, Jeni and Emmett!

Now on to what was lost.

We’ve devoted an entire article in this newsletter to the rollback of the Aboveground Storage Tank Act.

This session’s other bill that weakens environmental protections is S.B. 357, the so-called “Coal Jobs and Safety Act.”  It removes the requirement for coal operators to comply with water quality standards in their permits, shields coal companies from Clean Water Act lawsuits, and also directs the DEP to file an emergency rule that would index aluminum criteria to water hardness, which in most cases will allow greater concentrations of aluminum in streams.  It is possible that the EPA may reject some of these proposed changes; stay tuned.

And net metering suffered a substantial setback.  Bill Howley explains in this Charleston Gazette op-ed and this Power Line post.


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