By Dr. Christine Wimer, President Jefferson County Foundation
The book released earlier this year by West Virginia University Press, I’m Afraid of That Water: A Collaborative Ethnography of a West Virginia Water Crisis, was profiled in the October edition of GREEN. This collection of stories from the 2014 Elk River chemical spill and ensuing water crisis highlight the importance of protecting the quality of the water supply. Effective regulation from the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection is a critical component in this protection.
Also in the October edition of GREEN, we highlighted how the DEP was allowing large construction projects to avoid the more protective conditions of the 2019 Construction Stormwater General Permit. One of the ways the DEP accomplished this was by issuing unilateral enforcement orders that allowed entities to operate without a valid construction stormwater permit and under the conditions of the less protective expired 2012 permit. This is a clear abuse of discretion and a clear violation of the Clean Water Act.
Jefferson County Foundation appealed the first of these orders last April. The DEP went on to issue over 730 of these orders, allowing hundreds of entities to operate under these less protective requirements. This case progressed through discovery, albeit at a delayed pace due to the pandemic. After six months of operating without a permit and nearly finishing the entire project, the entity obtained a permit. Two weeks before the hearing, the EQB dismissed the case as moot and declined to rule on whether the DEP had the authority to issue such unilateral enforcement orders to allow entities to operate without an NPDES permit.
In this case, the DEP officials testified that the entities could not be required to obtain an appropriate permit because it would take too long and it was “construction season.” If we are going to protect the water resources of the state, the DEP cannot be allowed to usurp the Clean Water Act and the federal regulations of the NPDES program when it’s convenient.
On November 25, 2020, Jefferson County Foundation appealed this case to the Circuit Court of Kanawa County. We must hold the DEP accountable and require them to follow the regulations. The waters of the state depend on it. Find out more on our website at jeffersoncountyfoundation.org and the appeal.