CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A bill backed by the coal industry to make it easier to comply with water quality standards has advanced to passage stage in the House of Delegates. SB 687 survived what was likely the last chance for environmentalists to change a key provision of the bill.
The bill removes language in current law that requires the Department of Environmental Protection to evaluate water quality based on a stream’s ability to support “a balanced aquatic community that is diverse in species composition.”
The environmental community argues that provision requires the assessment of insects as the most scientifically sound method of determining a stream’s health.
Bill supporters say that method is too subjective, and it opens the door for environmental groups to sue coal operators over water quality based on the population of mayflies and other insects. Under this bill, the law still requires compliance with existing water quality standards, but with the measurement of fish and other “aquatic life” instead of insects.
Delegate Barbara Evans Fleischauer (D-Monongalia) tried on the House floor Thursday to reinstate the tougher language. “The reason this is important is to prevent stream death” from coal mine pollution, Fleischauer said. She argued the insects serve as a warning system for when a stream is at risk.
However, Delegate Mark Zatezalo (R-Hancock) countered that current law creates a more stringent water quality measurement than other states or the federal government, making it increasingly difficult for the coal industry.
Zatezalo added that some opponents have exaggerated the potential environmental impact of the bill. “I am disappointed that there are people out there–nobody in this room–that say that we are changing the narrative water quality standard. That is not true,” he said.
Fleischauer’s amendment failed 10-89-1. The bill is now at passage stage. It passed the Senate earlier 32-2.