WVEC Legislative Update

April 13, 2001

 

Good Friday the 13th - The Session

Gary Zuckett, WVEC Lobby coordinator gzuckett@wvwise.org

 

This was an unlucky day for Wind Power Tax Giveaways. HB2968, a bill to decrease property tax on the Tucker Co. Wind Power Project by 95%, was killed on the Senate floor through the efforts of Sen. Jon Hunter (D-Monongalia) who represents Tucker County. Senator Minear (R-Tucker), who also represents the district, was a sponsor of this bill to give away over $400,000/yr in county tax revenue needed for schools and other essential services. We hope voters in their district will remember this come election time...

 

Carrying Water to the House - Both Water Anti-Degradation bills (HB 2663 & 3240) have passed the Senate and are about to be reported to the House. They have to decide if they will agree with the Senate's amendments. If they "refuse" the Senate version, the bills will go to conference committee for more work (i.e. less protection). Message for House members is "no weakening amendments, we want stronger water protection in both bills." See press release at end of this message

 

Delegate Mary Pearl Compton, D-Monroe, gave an impassioned speech on the House floor today on the need for a strong Anti-Deg Bill to protect our water resources. Delegate Don Purdue, D-Wayne, spoke yesterday on the House floor about the slurry spill that has polluted the Big Sandy River in his district. He questioned the safety of his constituent's drinking water and the lasting effects of the millions of gallons of coal slurry released. Both of these Delegates should be thanked for their outspoken support of clean environment issues.

 

Timber Study Resolution Moves to House SCR 55, the proposal to study sediment and other logging regulations, is now in House Rules Committee. This is the "holding pen" for bills reported from the Senate. This "committee" meets immediately prior to floor sessions and has the power to kill a bill (or resolution) by not letting it out to the floor for a vote. The Message is to report the resolution to the floor. Committee members include: Chairman Robert S. Kiss, Committee Members Jon Amores, Vicki V. Douglas, Larry V. Faircloth, Roy E. Givens, Steve Harrison, Jerry L. Mezzatesta, Harold K. Michael, John Pino, Rick Staton, Charles S. Trump, IV, and Scott G. Varner.

 

Public Financing Resolution Stuck in Rules SCR 48, an interim study of the feasibility of enacting "Clean Money" public financing for WV elections is held up in House Rules (see above). If you want the legislature to take a good look at the system of clean elections Maine and Arizona are already using, ask Rules Committee to report SCR48 to the House floor.

 

Coal Economic Development Loopholes Plugged The public hearing we asked for on SB603 (which allows state and local economic development authorities to claim mountain top removal sites for future development without requiring them to be reclaimed back to AOC (approximate original contour)) was a success. Reps from the E-council, UMWA, OVEC, and Citizen Action presented a compelling outline of the many pitfalls of the original bill. Directors of local Development offices seemed to be testifying they needed to be able to "inventory" these unreclaimed sites in case a future site was needed for business. The next day, House Judiciary passed several amendments to "mitigate" many of the problems we illuminated. The bill is now on second reading in the House today.

 

Coal Bond Increase Wavering in House SB375, a bill to allow the Director of DEP to increase the $5,000/acre limit on coal reclamation bonds is being fought by Big Coal. After being reported from the Senate, the bill has languished in House Rules Committee. The message for Speaker Kiss and other members of Rules is to pass out SB375 to the floor for a vote.

 

 

Press Release on Anti-Deg

April 13, 2001

Charleston, W.Va. - Environmental groups held a press conference this afternoon at the State Capitol to express their disappointment and concerns with a controversial water quality bill slated to pass the state legislature.

Representatives of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition (WVRC), West Virginia Environmental Council (WVEC) and West Virginia Citizen Action Group (CAG) noted that the anti-degradation implementation plan that's been hotly debated in the statehouse is a loss for West Virginia's outstanding rivers and streams, and a loss for all citizens who depend on them to be clean.

"From the outset, the process has been one that's been dominated by special polluting interests, not the public interest," said Jeremy P. Muller, Executive Director of WVRC. "Unfortunately, the legislature caved in again and again when it had a chance to do right. This policy is supposed to protect West Virginia's clean water, but it doesn't."

"The public interest and the environment are left out of the deal," said Don Garvin, president of WVEC. "The legislature and DEP have catered to industry such that the policy is a couple of dozen pages of exemptions and exclusions. It does little to provide further protections for our state's most pristine streams and rivers."

Anti-degradation is a complicated but important provision that all states must adopt to be in compliance with the federal Clean Water Act, which was passed in 1972. Its purpose is to keep clean rivers and streams clean through a review of polluting activities that makes sure pollution is offset by social or economic benefits, and that polluters use the best pollution control technology. It is simply a review, and isn't intended to halt permitting or impede responsible economic development.

In response to a Notice of Intent to sue that West Virginia Rivers Coalition filed against the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the EPA directed West Virginia to write an anti-degradation implementation policy or risk federal intervention in the state's water program. Instead of following through on the lawsuit, the environmental community entered into 18 months of good-faith negotiations to develop a policy with a stakeholder committee established by the state Environmental Quality Board (EQB). Environmentalists participated in another three weeks of stakeholder negotiations in the legislature led by House Judiciary Chairman Jon Amores.

"Unfortunately, we've learned not to be good guys and play ball with industry," said Muller. "We'd be far better off - and so would the rivers - if we had sued from the beginning. Instead, we tried to work out a compromise, but what we got was an industry-biased document. We've learned from this."

In the legislative interim meetings just before the start of the regular session, the Joint Legislative Rulemaking Review Committee, Chaired by Senator Mike Ross (D- Randolph), threw out the policy written by EQB, and instead adopted an industry proposal written by a coalition of polluting industries. The environmental community quickly dubbed this the Dirty Water Bill, as it stooped to the lowest possible levels of water protections, almost ensuring that West Virginia's rivers and streams would become increasingly polluted.

Delegate Amores convened another set of stakeholders around a "compromise" rule drafted by the state Division of Environmental Protection (DEP). While the DEP proposal was weaker than the rule drafted by EQB, the environmental community appreciated Amores' efforts to put something before the legislature besides the Dirty Water Bill.

Unfortunately, the DEP proposal was weakened even more this week to accommodate polluters, even though the environmental community submitted extensive written comments as to how and why the bill should be made stronger. Environmental advocates were impressed with Gov. Bob Wise's public comments that the state must protect pristine trout streams and keep the DEP proposal from being weakened.

But in the eleventh hour, as the bill was before the Senate Judiciary Committee, the DEP negotiated downward with industry, not upward to protect the environment and the public's waterways. Mistakenly, the product was heralded as a compromise agreed to by all interested parties. Environmentalists were not part of these late night negotiations.

"The Dirty Water Coalition was too strong for the Governor to counteract," noted Norm Steenstra, Executive Director of CAG. "Indeed, there was just one vote in the House of Delegates that the Governor needed to pass a good water bill. That vote was Speaker Bob Kiss, and once again Kiss sided with the people that brought him to the dance."

"We want to make it clear that we were not part of this 'compromise,'" Muller said. "Industry told the legislature what they wanted and the legislature told DEP to give it to industry, so they negotiated with industry to make the policy weaker."

Among environmentalists' concerns with the bill is that existing facilities are grand-fathered (excused) altogether from the policy. Many other types of activities are exempt from the policy, such as valley fills from mountaintop removal operations, and forestry and agriculture operations. This is unfriendly to future economic development, since new and cleaner businesses that want to operate in West Virginia won't be held to the same standards as older, outdated operations.

EPA must approve or disapprove the DEP policy once the West Virginia Legislature passes it.

 

Contacts:

Jeremy P. Muller, Executive Director, West Virginia Rivers Coalition (304) 637-7201.

Don Garvin, President, West Virginia Environmental Council (304) 346-5905.

Norm Steenstra, Executive Director, West Virginia Citizen Action Group (304) 346-5891

 

Contact Information

Governor Wise: governor@wvgov.org

Legislators: cglagola@mail.wvnet.edu

(put Senator or Delegate's name in subject line)

or write to:

The Honorable _____________

Member, WV Senate or House of Delegates

Bldg. 1, State Capitol Complex

Charleston, WV 25305

You can fax letters to (304) 347-4819

 

DEP Director Callaghan: mcallaghan@mail.dep.state.wv.us

or call 304-759-0570

 

Call Your Legislators toll-free at: 1-877-565-3447

Call Governor Wise toll-free at: 1-888-438-2731/558-2000 (Charleston)

And you can go on-line to www.legis.state.wv.us for bill tracking, committee announcements, public hearing announcements, floor calendars and daily and weekly floor actions.

 

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