The West Virginia Rivers Coalition is accusing Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles Trump (R-Morgan County) of stacking the deck in favor of industry in the recent debate over a water quality bill that passed the West Virginia Senate last week.
The bill – introduced as SB 167, now bundled into SB 163 – passed the Senate last week 20 to 12.
The original bill came to the Senate Judiciary Committee with unanimous support for the inclusion of 60 Department of Environmental Protection updates to human health criteria in water quality standards.
“Once the bill came to your committee, you called together a stakeholder meeting in which I was instructed by your staff to limit public participation – a request we honored,” Angie Rosser of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition wrote in a letter to Trump dated February 5, 2019.
The letter was written on behalf of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition and 26 other environmental groups.
“However, that meeting on the evening of January 28 ended up including in the realm of thirty or more industry representatives,” the groups wrote. “We appreciated your apology relating it was not your intent to set up the meeting dynamic in the way it turned out, and your stated commitment that we would be afforded the opportunity to bring forth scientific experts when the committee would take up the bill.”
“It turned out we were not afforded that opportunity. As a result, you and your committee did not take sworn testimony from public health experts or the Department of Environmental Protection.”
“The assertions made by industry representatives at the off-the-record stakeholder meeting were not provided in a public setting, under oath,” the groups wrote. “Given that statements made by only a few industry representatives from the Kanawha Valley have resulted in the committee retracting standards based on the best available science to protect drinking water sources across the entire state, it is the legislature’s responsibility to document these claims on the record and under oath. We hope that this occurs as the rule is considered in the House of Delegates.”
“We had only a few hours’ notice before the bill ran in your committee, and then were advised by your staff that concerns or testimony would only be accepted in writing, and after your committee had already voted on a committee substitute for the bill. Our concern about this process is that it limits public transparency and debate, and sidesteps the venue for each of your committee members to have the opportunity to question scientific experts as well as representatives from impacted industries, under oath, before a committee vote.”
“Our position on the policy remains consistent – we support updating human health protections according to the best available science. The committee substitute that left your committee keeps our state water quality standards that limit the amount of toxins and cancer-causing chemicals in our drinking water sources largely based on science conducted prior to 1985.”
“The Department of Environmental Protection and the Environmental Protection Agency recommend that West Virginia update its standards to adequately protect human health based on better, more up-to-date science that is now available. Though the recommended updates from EPA were released in 2015, the Trump Administration has indicated it stands behind those recommendations.”
“In July 2018, the Trump EPA wrote a letter to WVDEP that said: ‘EPA is pleased that West Virginia is updating its current human health criteria to be consistent with EPA’s recommendations, as well as adding several criteria.’”
“That July 2018 letter from EPA went on to recommend that West Virginia consider the adoption of 33 additional updates.”
“EPA informed us that least three other states – Texas, Montana and Washington – have adopted these updates, and that the requests for EPA approval from neighboring states Pennsylvania and Virginia to update their standards are imminent.”
“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. We support their adoption now, and as new science emerges, support the DEP and Legislature in revisiting and further updating our water quality standards to keep our waters safe for public use.”
“Finally, it is important to recognize the hundreds of hours DEP spent analyzing the science and facilitating an extensive public comment process. We participated and provided input at every step of the way. Over 600 individual citizens submitted comments in support of the updates to the human health criteria. But it was not until the rule came to the Legislature that the WV Manufacturers Association indicated they wanted to begin their own commissioned study. The WVMA was aware, over three years ago, that this proposal was coming. It could have initiated its study much earlier within the parameters of the public comment process. Conceding to this stalling tactic impairs the government’s ability to protect public health.”