Report on June Interims of the West Virginia Legislative Subcommittees
By Tom Degen
The June interims did happen, and I was there, but recently my life is reminiscent of the Amish saying "the hurrieder I go, the behinder I get." My coverage of the interims was interrupted by a surprise deposition--I spent two days being questioned in regards to the mandamus garbage case that was referred to Circuit Court. I have never been deposed before; it was quite a learning experience! The pace picked up from there, resulting in a late June report, for which I apologize.
Judiciary Subcommittee A (Judic. A) met on Sunday, June 14, at 5:00 pm. Besides solid waste and tires, the subcommittee is addressing the electric utility deregulation issue. Although I am not covering the electric deregulation issue, I feel I should relay that the PSC is holding a hearing on September 22 to decide whether it is in the best interest (of whom?) to deregulate. In response to previous requests by the committee, the PSC is also holding two public meetings before September 22 to gather public comments on the issue; one in Morgantown, and one in Twin Falls. Dates for those were not available at that time. Senator Bowman expressed great interest in the PSC holding additional meetings because two places was not enough. Whether or not there will be more was not made clear.
Mandatory collection was taken up next. Rita Pauley explained S.B. 775, the bill that Senate Judiciary originated this past session. The bill was presented as a starting point to bring the subcommittee members up to speed on what happened last session to the issue. Briefly, the provisions of the bill as it stands now is that it is not mandatory collection like Senators Kimble and Buckalew proposed. Instead, it has retained the current approach of mandatory disposal, but the PSC is charged with enforcing the mandatory disposal provisions. Each local solid waste authority (SWA), and garbage hauler(s) serving that area, is charged with developing a plan for how solid waste services will be provided to everyone in the county. Much greater flexibility is provided than previously, in that green boxes and convenience centers are allowed, in addition to curbside pickup, which is preferred. When the system, or combination of systems, is decided upon, the hauler gets first refusal on which aspects it wants to implement. Those aspects that it does not want to perform, the SWA will put out to bid, do itself, or otherwise be responsible for implementing. Rates can be flat or usage sensitive, but the PSC will set the amount of the rate. Fines will be graduated, repeat offenses receive larger fines.
Danger of Big Brother. This bill has a lot of potential, but one of the big problems is that the garbage haulers are to help the local solid waste authorities write this plan, and if they can’t agree, the solid waste management board (SWMB) writes the plan. I see this as a big threat to local control, because disagreement is quite likely (and easily arranged), with the end result that the counties cannot develop their own plans. Increasingly, garbage haulers are being bought out by larger, vertically integrated garbage companies, which means that many local plans will be written, or prevented from being written, by Big Boy Garbage Co., Inc. At any rate, most haulers seem interested primarily in dumping garbage, as opposed to recycling, and in their profits, not the greater public good.
Other areas of concern in this bill are that the PSC is playing a larger role, perhaps to the point where aspects of solid waste services and facilities provided by governmental entities come under PSC regulation that were not previously under such regulation; the definitions are problematic, in that they give the DEP the authority to shut down systems that the planning process has deemed necessary; and recycling is addressed in a vague way.
Big, bad tires! Tires, the next item on the agenda, was addressed in a rather unusual way in that various stakeholders that had been previously invited were given the floor to express to the subcommittee what they thought should be done with tires. The overwhelming message that the subcommittee received was BURN those tires! There was discussion of a cement kiln in the Eastern Panhandle that is in the process of being permitted to burn tires. Nobody asked how this was possible in view of the incineration ban.
I was one of those who had been previously invited (the only one from a SWA or environmental/citizen) organization, but I came directly from an Environmental Council week-end long meeting, and was unprepared for, and quite frankly, overwhelmed by, the parade of pro-burners. It was also six o’clock and most committee members had already left; I decided to just listen and wait for a better time, but I did give what few materials I had with me to the committee staff for distribution to all members of the subcommittee. As the meeting was breaking up, Senator Ross made a comment to me that I’d better bring a match to the next meeting, because they were going to burn tires. My overall impression is that there needs to be a real public hearing, announced in plenty of time, so that other views can be presented to the committee.
Ross and others want to burn tires. It looks very much like the tire burning train is on the tracks and running--anyone who wants another way of dealing with tires had better start doing their homework and contacting their legislators and these subcommittee members. I would appreciate any information anyone can get to me, since my tire file was borrowed and never returned last session, but it is going to take more than just my lone voice to slow this train down!
Blasting and fly rock. I am covering the blasting issue for the Highlands Conservancy through July, so I will be reporting on meetings of Subcommittee C of the Joint Standing Committee on Government Organization (Gov. Org. C), which is studying blasting. The subcommittee met on Sunday, June 14 at 4:00 pm. Brenda Thompson, staff attorney, gave a brief overview of the aspects of blasting that the subcommittee would be considering, which are: what are the effects of blasting on property within a one mile radius, and in regards to water well damage; how does the current law, enacted twenty years ago, correspond to today’s technology; have state agencies responded to citizen concerns in a fair manner; what are safe levels of blasting noise; and is the time of day during which blasting is permitted adequately regulated.
Glenn Sherman, a geologist with the Department of Highways, gave a crash course in blasting to the subcommittee, and demonstrated the use of a seismograph. He covered things such as the three types of waves, frequency of waves, ground vibrations, peak particle velocity, and air blasts. His speaking style was not very charismatic, and he was presenting quite a bit of technical material. Even though he used a blackboard, and the subcommittee members had handouts, I expect that not too many of the subcommittee members really understood the material. I base that expectation on the fact that I did not really understand the material, even though I had done some homework before coming. Some useful things that I did glean from his presentation are that the lower frequency vibrations are the ones that damage houses, and that the farther a wave goes, the lower its frequency becomes, and the more damage that results. This is a good justification for increasing the regulatory distance of 1/2 mile to one mile for pre-blast surveys, mandatory use of seismographs, etc.
Jim Miller gave the next presentation. Mr. Miller works for the DEP, and receives blasting complaints. He said that the majority of complaints concern vibrations, mostly from the airblasts. Dust is the number two complaint. He said that the law provides no parameters on dust, it is up to the inspector’s discretion. Flyrock (rock thrown by the blast) is the most dangerous of the complaints received, and water well damage is often alleged, but rarely substantiated. He said that all blasts must be certified by the Fire Marshall; that air blast limits are tied to ground vibration; that the permittees must conduct periodic monitoring, and the DEP can require monitoring more frequently; that pre-blast surveys are required for houses within 1/2 mile of the blast; that the permittee must use either a scaled distance formula or seismograph readings when blasting; that there are seven criteria that must be examined to determine water well damage, and that the DEP likes to examine the drilling logs for water well complaints; and that the DEP is working on better education of owners concerning the pre-blast survey and complaint procedures. The overall impression was that the DEP has things under control, except that the residents need better educating.
Next up was Richard Tankersley, who works for a blasting company as a blaster. Much of what he said also painted the picture that everything is OK. Statements like there is a safety factor built into the scaled distance formula so that there is a 99.9% certainty that no damage is caused if the blast is conducted within the regulatory limits. That hammering on the floor causes more vibration than a well planned "shot." However, he did say that some rock strata are more risky than others, and that blasting is site specific (which contradicts the "one size fits all" regulations). I had to leave a little early to attend the Judic. A meeting on solid waste and tires, so I missed it when he said, in answer to a question, that if he lived near a blasting site, he would be nervous.
A good attendance by citizens from communities affected by blasting got the subcommittee’s attention. A tour of a mine site and a community affected by blasting is scheduled for Monday, July 13. It is my understanding that citizens are welcome to attend the tour, but will have to supply their own transportation. Anyone interested should contact Ashley Cochrane of the West Virginia Organizing Project at 752-0901 or firstname.lastname@example.org
The next interims are scheduled for July 12-14. Judic. A meets at 11:00 am on Monday, July 13, in the Senate Judiciary room. Gov. Org. C is scheduled to meet at 4:00 pm Sunday, July 12, in the Senate Judiciary room, but it may combine its meeting with the tour on Monday.
If you have any questions or comments, please contact me. _