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“Wave” of Bills at Legislature Would Weaken State Water Quality

The West Virginia House of Delegates. Clean water advocates say they are concerned about a series of proposals before lawmakers. Photo courtesy of the state legislature.
The West Virginia House of Delegates. Clean water advocates say they are concerned about a series of proposals before lawmakers. Photo courtesy of the state legislature.
March 11, 2013

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Water quality advocates and environmentalists are concerned about a wave of proposals the legislature is considering that would weaken state clean water protections. Don Garvin, legislative coordinator, West Virginia Environmental Council, pointed to bills to allow more selenium, aluminum and beryllium in West Virginia's water, and said there are separate proposals to loosen the rules on treating run-off, especially from abandoned surface mines and mountaintop removal sites.

Allies of the mining industry won a lot of seats in the last election, Garvin noted.

"The legislature this session is a different legislature," he said. "There's a lot more pressure being put on, by the coal industry in particular, because they have the votes."

State selenium limits helped force Patriot Coal to give up mountaintop removal last fall, Garvin said, so it is no coincidence some lawmakers now want to loosen those regulations. The state Department of Environmental Protection is also asking to change aluminum and beryllium limits without going through the normal rulemaking process.

Garvin said it's a fake emergency.

"The only emergency in the DEP's proposed emergency rule appears to be that our water is too clean," he charged.

According to Garvin, none of the bills even try to deal with a basic truth about the future of the industry: The easy-to-reach coal has been mined out. He said coal mining has entered a long, slow decline in central Appalachia, but few are willing to face that reality.

"The reality is that the cheap coal is gone," he said, "and it's long past time to be talking about a post-coal economy."

The industry has argued it needs to be able to pollute more in order to stay profitable and maintain employment levels. Garvin noted that even if the state's water rules are loosened, they will still have to meet federal health and environmental standards.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV