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Public Outcry Sparked GOP Votes Against “Cancer Creek” Bill

Comments from the public moved several Republican lawmakers in West Virginia to break with their party and vote against a controversial pollution bill. (W. Va. Legislature)
Comments from the public moved several Republican lawmakers in West Virginia to break with their party and vote against a controversial pollution bill. (W. Va. Legislature)
March 6, 2017

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- House Bill 2506 - nicknamed the "Cancer Creek Bill" by its critics - passed the West Virginia House of Delegates last week, but not before a public outcry pushed several delegates to oppose it.

The bill would permit more pollution in surface waters by changing how the state measures baseline stream flows. While it passed the House on a largely party-line final vote, several GOP lawmakers said they voted against it because of public input.

Delegate Jill Upson, a Republican from Jefferson County, said the feedback made her take a closer look at the potential impact on drinking water sources. She said that led to questions she didn't get good answers for.

"I was hearing from people not only back home, but from people around the state. I needed assurances that that additional discharge wouldn't add additional pollutants into the water,” Upson said. “And I just don't believe that I ever received enough assurance."

The bill is now under discussion in the state Senate. Supporters, including the West Virginia Manufacturers Association, argued it would be good for employment and provide regulatory relief for companies with waste to dispose of.

But the bill's opponents challenged its supporters to show where it would create a single new job. A lobbyist for the manufacturers confirmed that he could not, and Upson said the lack of specifics also affected her vote.

"If the manufacturers were wanting to see that legislation succeed, I believe, you know, it would be incumbent on them to put the information out there, so that the legislators could have all the data they needed to make an informed decision,” she said.

At the public hearing for House Bill 2506, Upson said she noted that "the overwhelming majority" of people who testified opposed the bill. Other Republican delegates have also said that the public objections pushed them to vote against the legislation.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV