Coal Tattoo

Coal agenda moving at the statehouse

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It’s not like the coal industry had a particularly hard time getting its bills through the West Virginia Legislature when Democrats were running the show.  But it’s worth noting that the industry’s agenda is starting to move again this year under the new Republican leadership as well.

For example, take today’s meeting of the Senate Energy Industry and Mining Committee, where a major change in state water pollution rules covering coal was approved with basically no discussion at all.

The bill under consideration was SB 166, a Department of Environmental Protection rules bill that makes one little change in the water pollution permit rule for coal mining operations. It deletes from the rule this sentence:

The discharge or discharges covered by a WV/NPDES permit are to be of such quality so as not to cause violation of applicable water quality standards promulgated by 47 C.S.R. 2.

As was explained to committee members, the point of the bill is to allow mine operators to use a state DEP permit as a “shield” against citizen lawsuits that allege mining discharges are causing water quality standard violations.  In federal court, U.S. District Judge Robert C. Chambers has been refusing to go along with this “permit shield” defense.  Naturally, if the coal industry can’t comply with the law, the best thing to do is to change that law, right?

But hold on, because there was a bill introduced today that would go even further. SB 357 says:

While permits shall contain conditions that are designed to meet all applicable state and federal water quality standards and effluent limitations, water quality standards themselves shall not be incorporated wholesale either expressly or by reference as effluent standards or limitations in a permit issued pursuant to this article.

So, if this passes, the law in West Virginia would be that DEP can’t write into water pollution permits for the coal industry that mining companies must comply with water quality standards.

If you like that change, then be sure to read the West Virginia Coal Association’s entire legislative wish list, which I’ve posted here. And before anybody thinks they can blame all of this on the Legislature’s new Republican leadership, remember that this DEP-written changesin coal permit rules was all because of a previous bill that was passed by a Democratic Legislature and signed by a Democratic governor.