CHARLESTON, W.Va. — After lengthy debate the state House of Delegates passed a bill that would change the way permitted discharges into West Virginia streams may be calculated.

Delegates passed the water quality bill 63-37. It now goes to the state Senate.

Brad McElhinny/MetroNews

Votes are tallied on a water quality bill in the state House of Delegates.

Debate on the issue was both technical and emotional.

Proponents said the change will allow more flexibility for manufacturers, particularly those who may want to develop on “brownfields” sites alongside an existing manufacturer. The proponents also said the change would put the state in line with the standards of the federal government and surrounding states.

The bill adopts a “harmonic mean” flow –a way to calculate an average — to determine permit limits for planned discharges of treated water into streams. It also allows overlapping mixing zones where materials may be initially released and then diluted. In other words, multiple manufacturers may be considered for the same point of release for permitting purposes.

The bill would change permitting standards for companies but not overall standards regarding pollution limits in bodies of water.

Opponents said the new calculation methods would weaken West Virginia’s water quality standards — and whatever reputation it has for clean water. They said even if overall pollution limits remain the same, the changed calculations for permitting will allow more pollutants into waterways.

The bill had strong responses from both sides during the House of Delegates floor session on Wednesday.

Mark Zatezalo

Delegate Mark Zatezalo, a Weirton native, contended that water quality of West Virginia streams has improved significantly over his lifetime. He sponsored the bill and said he doesn’t believe it will harm the state’s water quality.

“Harmonic mean does not mean that water quality standards are going to be lessened,” said Zatezalo, R-Hancock. “What I’ve seen is continuous improvement. I’m the lead sponsor on this bill. I think it is good for the state of West Virginia.”

He added, “If I believed it was going to harm the water quality of the state of West Virginia, I would be against it. I trust the DEP to take the guidance and make good decisions with it.”

Delegate Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, said West Virginia needs a reputation for clean water to encourage a different kind of investment relating to tourism. He said young people are also more likely to be attracted to the state if they believe it has committed to clean water.

“When you join me in voting against this unnecessary bill, you will be voting for a more diverse economy for West Virginia, you will be voting for more economic development in West Virginia, giving young people a reason to move back to this state. I assure you they will thank you for it. Please vote red,” Pushkin said.

Delegate Shawn Fluharty said the bill was sold as one to promote job growth. New Commerce Secretary Woody Thrasher spoke about the bill during a public hearing Monday as a tool for growth.

But Fluharty, D-Ohio, said he hasn’t seen the evidence.

“It’s about measurements and whether we are weakening our measurements in the state of West Virginia,” Fluharty said. “It’s clear that we are.”

Barbara Fleischauer

Delegate Barbara Fleischauer became emotional when she talked about water quality. Although the bill’s sponsors said it’s about permitting — and not about accidental, illegal or catastrophic spills — she said hard experience has taught West Virginians the importance of clean, safe water.

“Is this bill, which allows more carcinogenic and noncarcinogenic pollutants in our water, is it in the public interest?” asked  Fleischauer, D-Monongalia.  “It has everything to do with that because we know how precious our drinking water is. I do not[ want us to be guinea pigs. I urge a no vote to HB 2506.”

Delegate Charlotte Lane said she had spent her life protecting water quality, particularly during her time as chairwoman of the state Public Service Commission. Lane said she doesn’t believe this bill will diminish water quality.

Delegate Roger Hanshaw talked about growing up in Clay County, where water quality was so bad that his family needed filters to cope with iron contamination. But Hanshaw, now an environmental lawyer, said he is confident the bill will not damage the state’s water quality. Now, he said, his family’s water still comes from the Elk River.

“To suggest that anybody cares more about the drinking water in that body of water than me is way off the mark,” said Hanshaw, R-Clay.

Roger Hanshaw

Hanshaw introduced the bill on third reading, offered an explanation and then fielded questions from other delegates.

He said the state is subject to an unwavering limit on water quality for individual bodies of water, but that individual permits limit how much each manufacturer may discharge into a body of water.

“No matter how many permittees exist on a particular body of water, that water quality standard still provides a cap on what the water quality standard must be,” Hanshaw said.

Hanshaw described the two-pronged change: one aspect to switch to “harmonic convergence” as the method of calculating the water quality at a discharge point over a period of time and the other to allow shared mixing zones by manufacturers discharging into shared bodies of water.

“The bill does not permit facilities to do anything that is out of compliance with the law,” Hanshaw said in his explanation. “It does not allow companies to discharge materials they are not authorized to discharge today. It does not allow themto discharge anything above and beyond the existing West Virginia water quality standards. The bill has no relationship whatsoever to catastrophic events.”

“This bill has nothing to do with that. It simply has to do with what DEP uses to calculate effluent limits and whether we can locate two facilities next to one another, on brownfields property. Or whether we force our DEP to shift folks to other sites that may or may not be available elsewhere.”

Delegate Linda Longstreth, D-Marion, asked, “Are there particular developments that might occur as a result of this change?”

Hanshaw again cited the potential use for brownfields sites, which are remediated industrial locations. He said those instances could require overlapping mixing zones for discharges. But right now, he said, the process to acquire a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit is silent on whether overlapping mixing zones are allowable.

A manufacturing property “may have been completely shuttered or dramatically scaled back and would like to lease a portion of its facility,” Hanshaw said. “So we’ve got an existing industrial site, sutiable for a smaller company to occupy but it cannot do so without difficulty because the new company will have an NPDES permit and will discharge into an overlapping mixing zone.”

 

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