The Senate Energy, Industry and Mining Committee voted Tuesday to strengthen water quality standards, even after the state’s manufacturing association previously advised state lawmakers and regulators to weaken them.
Tuesday, the state Department of Environmental Protection said it actually did stand with updates to water quality and human health criteria it first recommended in July. The DEP presented those updates to 60 pollutants in November in front of the legislative rule-making committee but quickly eliminated all new proposals after the West Virginia Manufacturer’s Association said it was looking into new information. The committee agreed to eliminate new proposals and send the rule back to the DEP.
Several times, including at a public hearing last week, the DEP has said it stood by the rules it proposed at the time. The DEP’s initial proposed changes included updates to 60 criteria changes based on the federal EPA’s 2015 recommendations, instead of proposed criteria for all 94 pollutants.
“We wouldn’t have proposed it if we thought there were issues with the criteria at the time,” Scott Mandirola, WVDEP deputy secretary of external affairs, said Tuesday.
Mandirola said the decision to eliminate new proposals wasn’t based on science, but on the rule-making committee’s request.
Tuesday night, Sen. Bill Hamilton, R-Upshur, asked Mandirola if it would be a problem if the Senate Energy, Industry and Mining Committee put those 60 updates back in the proposed rule.
“No, sir,” Mandirola said.
The committee unanimously adopted an amendment to include all 60 scientific updates and send the proposed rule to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Committee Chairman Randy Smith, R-Tucker, said including that amendment was the “right thing to do.”
“Everyone wants clean water, I mean, honestly, it’s not a Republican or Democrat thing,” he said, adding that the bill could change drastically as it moves through the Legislature.
Mandirola declined to answer questions Tuesday night, referring questions to an agency spokesman. Rebecca McPhail, president of the West Virginia Manufacturers Association, declined to answer questions in the committee room, and asked for questions in an email. She didn’t respond to the questions by press time Tuesday night.
Environmental groups called the amendment a step in the right direction.
“Obviously we were taken aback by what happened in November and we think the restoration of these particular parameters is important for public health,” said Karan Ireland, government affairs director of the West Virginia Environmental Council.
The Senate committee did the right thing by following the experts, said Angie Rosser, executive director of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition.
“It’s a good day for water drinkers of this state to feel like we’re on a path on making decisions based on sound science and making decisions based on public health and not just a few polluting industries who traditionally have had a great degree of political sway in this capitol,” she said.