By Donald S. Garvin, Jr.
West Virginia Environmental Council Legislative Coordinator
The West Virginia Environmental Council has adopted a list of legislative priorities for the 2011 session of the West Virginia Legislature that will focus primarily on water quality issues.
Regulating the drilling of Marcellus shale gas wells is shaping up to be the “big battle” in the 2011 session that begins January 12. There are already two bills being discussed: one, a proposal from the WV Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) developed after stakeholder meetings that began last April; and two, a bill being considered by Subcommittee A of the Joint Legislative Interim Judiciary Committee, after about three years of presentations on the subject by various stakeholders.
WVEC will support comprehensive legislation to address the multitude of new environmental issues surrounding the drilling of Marcellus shale natural gas wells. It requires huge amounts of water to drill and “fracture” the Marcellus shale formation, and in turn produces huge amounts of wastewater. Specifically, WVEC supports regulatory changes that will address water withdrawal from rivers and streams, the content of “frac” fluids, and the disposal of wastewater, along with other important issues arising from this drilling.
In a related matter, the DEP Office of Water has proposed significant changes to the Water Quality Standards Rule that contains a new narrative standard for water withdrawals, new criteria for “total dissolved solids” (TDS), and new nutrient standards for the Greenbrier River. The rule also proposes to create a permanent “mixing zone”
variance for Weirton Steel and to lower the criteria for iron on trout streams. WVEC supports some of the proposed changes, and opposes others, and will work to make this rule stronger.
Another water issue of high priority to the E-Council is the impact on human health caused by the injection of coal slurry into underground mine pools. The DEP’s own study has shown contamination of nearby groundwater supplies from this process, and the agency has put in place a temporary moratorium on the issuance of new slurry injection permits. It now appears that Subcommittee A of the Joint Legislative Interim Judiciary Committee will begin discussing a bill that would ban this practice (again, after about three years of presentations on the subject by various stakeholders). WVEC will continue to support legislation that would permanently ban the underground injection of coal slurry.
In an effort to address climate change and greenhouse gases, and reduce West Virginia’s carbon footprint, WVEC will continue its support of two bills.
The first is the West Virginia Energy Efficiency Act (last session’s bill number was HB 4012). This bill includes a revenue sharing mechanism for utilities so that if the company can lower a consumer’s bill through reduced energy consumption then the utility can generate a higher profit rate. The bill mandates that utilities submit a plan to the WV Public Service Commission (PSC) to reduce (per capita) energy consumption by 15% by 2015.
The second is the West Virginia Green Buildings Act (last session’s bill number was HB 4008). This bill would mandate that new state buildings be built to the Silver certification level of “green” standards under the LEED’s certification program. This means the buildings must earn at least 33 out of 69 possible points based on six criteria: sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality, and innovation and design process.
As a new priority, this year WVEC will also support legislation that would eliminate tax “subsidies” for the production and burning of coal.
WVEC will continue to support a Public Health Impact Assessment Bill. This legislation would require the Bureau of Public Health to provide the Legislature with an independent assessment of the public health impacts of DEP rules proposals to change water quality or air quality standards.
Finally, WVEC will ask the Legislature to adopt a resolution calling for an “accountability” of both the Department of Environmental Protection and the Public Service Commission.
And, as usual, the WVEC lobby team will be ready to “play defense” on any number of bad proposals that pop up during the session.