Environmental Wrap-Up

By Carey Jo

The good and bad that passed this Legislative Session… 

HB 4408, expanding private companies’ ability to develop recreational facilities is awaiting the Governor’s signature. It expands private development to all of our state parks and forests, potentially allowing casinos, mountain roller coasters, ORV trails; 50 year leases; and increased fees. Tourism dollars help our state, but we shouldn’t allow a free-for-all on public lands. Keep an eye out for development proposals at your favorite park over the next few years – then be sure to give your input!

A couple of bills that benefit the oil and gas industry are also waiting for the Governor to sign: SB 650, eliminating the number of royalty owners needed to develop a tract; and SB 694, a complex, sweeping bill addressing application requirements, regulation, and compensation options for horizontal wells. Portions of these bills may be controversial among environmentalists, pitting forced pooling detractors and land/mineral owners against those who see fewer holes in the ground as an improvement over multiple wells.

HB 4758 also passed and was sent to the Governor. This law will allow the DEP to comply with a federal mandate to accurately track mine reclamation liability. Nothing like a federal threat to get some action!

SB 279, signed into law back in February, is a mixed bag. It updates the human health criteria for water quality standards, weakening some parameters and strengthening others. It also changes the review process for future changes in the standards by assigning the sole approval authority to the DEP without legislative review.

Notable deaths…

Here’s a rarity: two really BIG WINS killing bills that would have put profit over public and workers’ safety.

The full House never voted on HB 4840, which would have stripped the WV Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training of the power to issue orders and fines for safety violations, eliminated permit fees and mine inspections, and a whole host of other horrible actions. UMWA spokesman Phil Smith was quoted in the Gazette-Mail saying, “We are completely opposed to this insult to West Virginia miners and especially to their families, who have a right to expect them to come home safe and sound at the end of every shift.” 

HB 2598 – Remember when 300,000 West Virginians in nine counties had their water contaminated by a toxic chemical leak? Apparently some members of the Legislature have a really short memory, or simply don’t care. The original Aboveground Storage Tank Act gets weakened almost every session, and this year’s attack was HB 2598. It catered to the oil and gas industry by relaxing inspection requirements for oil and gas waste tanks located in zones of critical concern – the tanks just upstream from drinking water intakes. Surprisingly, this one never made it out of the Senate Energy, Industry and Mining Committee!

Maybe there is a little hope. 

Not surprising is that the Legislature doesn’t think we need more oil, gas, or air quality inspectors. SB613, SB 480, and HB 3082 addressing the documented shortages were all killed this session. 

For more in-depth information about some of these bills, check out these articles by Mike Tony of the Charleston Gazette-Mail: 

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