News Feature | April 13, 2017

West Virginia Finalizes Bill That Could Increase Water Pollution

Dominique 'Peak' Johnson

By Peak Johnson

For some time now, West Virginia lawmakers have been working toward legislation that could allow more toxic discharge into their waterways.

It’s been a heavily-debated topic, with those supporting the bill arguing that “it would bring more jobs to the state, because organizations could build more facilities on vacant industrial properties.”

Last month, the bill was endorsed by the administration of Governor Jim Justice, a Republican, and by the West Virginia Manufacturers Association. The legislation “would apply a new type of stream flow measurement to set permitted discharge limits not just for cancer-causing chemicals, but also for pollutants that are linked to non-cancer human health effects,” the Charleston Gazette-Mail reported.

West Virginia’s House Bill 2506 was voted on in March, with opponents saying that it could put West Virginia’s drinking water supply at risk.

West Virginia Public Broadcasting reported that the bill, “...relates to how much of a substance can be released into West Virginia’s waterways under state permits and the places where those permits overlap.”

Overall, the report added, the bill would allow “an increased discharge limit of cancer-causing and non-cancer causing chemicals into West Virginia’s streams and rivers, but only after certain calculations and observations have been made by the state Department of Environmental Protection.”

According to the Charleston Gazette-Mail, late last month the bill was approved.

“Senators voted 20-13 in favor of House Bill 2506 and sent the measure to Gov. Jim Justice.”

The state’s water quality standards and the legal limit for stream contamination will not change under the bill, however, “because the average flow is always higher than the low-flow measure, the change allows the agency [Department of Environmental Protection] to approve increases in the discharges allowed by specific industrial facilities.”

Sen. Corey Palumbo, a Democrat, added “that the legislation makes West Virginia’s permit calculations less stringent than surrounding states.”

“I don’t think our path to economic development is saying we allow more pollutants into our streams than other states,” Palumbo said.

Lawmakers did hear testimony from “DEP officials, industry lobbyists and a consultant working on the issue for the West Virginia Rivers Coalition.” However, “the legislative review of the bill brought out no clear answers about the extent to which pollution discharge could be increased or about long-term public health implications of the bill — or about exactly what new businesses and jobs such a change in environmental rules would bring to West Virginia.”

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