Coal Tattoo

Stalling selenium: DEP says bill goes too far

West Virginia lawmakers seem intent on helping the coal industry continue to stall compliance with water quality standards for toxic selenium pollution. They’re moving forward with a bill that even Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Randy Huffman doesn’t support.

Erica Peterson of West Virginia Public Broadcasting reports that a Senate committee approved the bill (SB461)  yesterday, despite the lack of DEP support and strong opposition from the West Virginia Environmental Council.

Here’s the video:

As I reported last week, the bill would give anyone holding a water pollution permit from the state Department of Environmental Protection — in this instance, coal companies — until July 1, 2012, to comply with water quality limits for selenium.

Recall that the coal industry and West Virginia regulators have been scrambling to find ways to avoid complying with these standards for years, since federal studies found dangerous levels of selenium runoff from mountaintop removal mines in Southern West Virginia.  A federal judge and the state Environmental Quality Board have both found that the industry has been stalling its efforts to stop selenium violations. (Also see Stalling on selenium?)

green_mike.jpgSen. Mike Green, a Raleigh County Democrat who chairs the Energy, Industry and Mining Committee, and is a sponsor of the bill and a Friend of Coal, told Peterson:

At this point, I have not seen any of those studies that say what the impact of selenium is on aquatic life in the streams. I think we’re doing the best we can to make sure we’re good stewards of the state’s waterways and whatever recommendations come out from this year-long study, rest assured that we will do the best we can to implement those to protect the environment in the state of West Virginia.

Well, Coal Tattoo wants to help. So I’ve posted here a report by Dennis Lemly, who is the nation’s foremost expert on selenium pollution’s impacts on water quality and aquatic life. In short, Lemly warns that selenium runoff from mountaintop removal operations has left the Mud River watershed “on the brink of a major toxic event”:

If waterborne selenium concentrations are not reduced, reproductive toxicity will spiral out of control and fish populations will collapse.

secretary-randy-huffman-portrait_small.jpgHuffman, whose agency has already bent over backwards to help coal operators with the selenium problem, said DEP does not support this legislation.  DEP wants to stick with the April 2010 deadline it already gave the industry.

There’s a lot of work going on right now, a lot of research going on right now and I hope for the sake of the streams and the rivers and for the sake of the coal companies that they are able to meet that deadline of April 2010. Because that’s when we intend to begin to enforce the law on them.

Green points out that the legislation includes a requirement that DEP perform a study of selenium’s effects. The study would be due by January 2010. Great idea. Having DEP do a study has been such a great strategy for dealing with concerns about water contamination from underground slurry injection by the coal industry.