The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has given the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection the green light to regulate the way the state enforces water pollution permit limits.
House Bill 2506 passed in last year’s legislative session and requires the state to use an average flow, known as the “harmonic mean flow” to calculate water quality, as opposed to a more conservative low-flow system that the state used for years. The bill authorized the DEP to enforce those standards.
The EPA authorized the move in a letter last week to the state Division of Water and Waste Management.
“[The] EPA made this recommendation because, by and large, human health criteria are designed to protect an individual over a lifetime of exposure, and so [the] EPA attempts to match the longest stream flow averaging period (i.e. harmonic mean flow) with the criteria which is protective over a human lifetime,” the letter reads.
The EPA’s action allows the state to adopt language similar to an earlier proposal that had been dubbed the “Cancer Creek Bill.” That bill was first discussed in the Legislature decades ago, because it could potentially increase the discharge of toxic chemicals into West Virginia’s waterways. The bill was signed into law April 8, 2017. Advocates of the law argued that it would create new jobs.
“In a way, this EPA letter does make it the reality that this is the practice now, but only time will tell if it’s advantageous to West Virginia to creating jobs and preserving a lot of resources for current and future use, and that’s something our organization presses on a lot,” said Angie Rosser, executive director at the West Virginia Rivers Coalition.
Rebecca McPhail, president of the West Virginia Manufacturers Association, said the EPA’s approval came as no surprise.
“The law provides industry with flexibility without reducing environmental protections,” McPhail wrote in an email.
The bill also OK’d overlapping mixing zones, but in the letter, the EPA recommended that the DEP evaluate the “cumulative effects of multiple mixing zones within the same waterbody.”
Rosser said she’ll be watching to see what kind of results come from the evaluation.
“When you mix certain compounds together, a third thing can be produced, so what is that third thing or what is that additive — that’s the word they use — the consequences of mixing that up?” she said.