A controversial water bill that supposedly didn’t leave anyone happy has passed the West Virginia Senate and is headed to the House of Delegates.
The rules bundle (Senate Bill 167) includes changes to the way the state handles water quality and human health criteria. The proposed rules were first sent from the state Department of Environmental Protection to the legislative rule-making committee, which decided to strip the rule of updates to 60 pollutants. The updates matched the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s 2015 recommendations.
The Senate Energy, Industry and Mining committee put the EPA’s recommendations back, but the Judiciary Committee took them back out on Friday, adding a deadline for any group to weigh in on the proposed criteria. The state Department of Environmental Protection has until the 2021 legislative session to propose recommendations.
“It pleased no one, I recognize that,” Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles Trump, R-Morgan, said on the floor Thursday, which was Environment Day at the Legislature.
The bill passed 20-12.
“Safe, clean water is too important not to devote a lot of time and energy into making sure we get it right,” said Sen. William Ihlenfeld, D-Ohio, who supported putting all 60 recommendations in on the Energy, Industry and Mining Committee and voted against the bill Thursday.
Trump and Ihlenfeld were the only senators who spoke on the floor, and both said they’d be inflexible about the 2021 deadline.
“We think the action of the Senate today on SB 163 is the right thing to do. As I said earlier this week, the language in the bill allows more time for the WVMA to do the work we’ve asked to be allowed to do, and we are already working to honor that pledge,” said Rebecca McPhail, president of the West Virginia Manufacturers Association.
Before the vote, West Virginia Rivers Coalition and 23 co-signing groups wrote to Trump indicating the committee substitute wasn’t a compromise.
“Delaying action on these updates, which is the effect of the committee substitute, leaves West Virginia residents at risk. Decades of scientific study and analysis led the development of these recommended updates,” the letter says.
Trump’s assertion that the bill “pleased no one” is fair, McPhail said. “Due to the technical nature of the analysis needed, the October 2019 submission is challenging, but we will honor our commitment by the deadline and ultimately support the current language,” she said.
Senators heard from “stakeholders” at an off-the-record meeting last week. According to Angie Rosser, executive director of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition, groups were told public participation was limited. About 30 industry representatives were present, she said.
“That was our concern coming in to this vote, is that the Senate Judiciary Committee wasn’t afforded an opportunity to hear expert testimony, they weren’t afforded an opportunity to ask questions of stakeholders on the stand, to learn more about this, so I hope that changes. I hope it changes when we go over to the House with this bill,” she said.
If the bill stays as is when it goes through the House of Delegates, the next year will be very important, she said.
Thursday, the West Virginia Rivers Coalition submitted a petition with nearly 900 constituent signatures about the water quality standards. Karan Ireland, government affairs director for the West Virginia Environmental Council, said she’d ask for a public hearing.
“I’ll be interested to see what kind of turnout we get there,” she said.