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Gazette editorial: Legislative flub protects streams; leave it that way

The Legislature was so eager to do its industry favors this year that lawmakers tripped over themselves, accidentally undoing a favor to one group while kowtowing to another.

First, lawmakers passed House Bill 2506, allowing more pollution in streams by changing when measurements can be taken. The bill, dubbed the “Cancer Creek bill” when it was proposed in previous years, allows the state Department of Environmental Protection to measure pollution during times of higher water flow. The old rule had been to measure during low-flow times — to catch pollutants at their most concentrated.

That was a long-sought change by the West Virginia Manufacturers Association, among others.

Then, late in the session, came Senate Bill 687, to combine various state mine safety boards and help mining companies fight citizen lawsuits intended to get streams cleaned up. But that bill included re-enacting an earlier version of state code that had been changed by HB 2506. The Legislature unwittingly restored the older, better standard of taking pollution measurements at low-flow times.

Environmental advocate Angie Rosser wisely pointed out that’s what happens when you rush things through and don’t get input from a variety of people. Someone might have warned lawmakers of their unintentional outcome.

Some legislators now want Gov. Jim Justice, who signed both bills, to put their mess on the agenda for the special session — a time-sensitive special session intended to write a workable budget.

Bad idea.

Gov. Justice should not be distracted, and not help lawmakers distract themselves. West Virginia needs a good budget, and the wage-earners and businesses in this state need a dose of optimism about the future — as in, there is one.

West Virginians did not need a bill to help certain industries pollute more at the expense of others, including other commercial interests. They certainly don’t need to waste time on it now.

Gov. Justice’s spokesman, Grant Herring, said this is the Legislature’s mistake and it is up to the Legislature to fix it. That sounds good. Let them “fix” it in 2018.

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