Water Policy News: Week 3 of the 2020 Legislative Session

Easy Action for Clean Water

Each week of the legislative session, we share an easy action for clean water, it only takes a few minutes and it is the most urgent call to action.

Week 3: Contact your senator and let them know you support the Clean Drinking Water Act of 2020, S.B. 679.

Citizen Advocates Rally for Clean Water and a Healthy Environment

On Tuesday, January 28, citizen advocates from all corners of West Virginia gathered in Charleston for E-Day at the Legislature, hosted by the WV Environmental Council.

It was a busy day for citizen advocates as two important water policies saw action in the House of Delegates.

During the morning floor session in the House, Delegate Mike Pushkin introduced a petition collected by WV Rivers containing the names of 760 individuals who have emailed members of the House Energy Committee opposing HB4079, the oil & gas storage tank rollback bill.

Following the floor session over two dozen citizen advocates visited the office of Delegate Jordan Hill to request the committee he chairs, House Health and Human Resources, put the Clean Drinking Water Act on the committee’s agenda.

Citizen advocates prepare to ask Delegate Hill to add the Clean Drinking Water Act to the Health and Human Resources Committee agenda.

Read our full blog on E-Day and view photos here.

Clean Drinking Water Act of 2020 Introduced to House and Senate

Last week we shared the good news that the Clean Drinking Water Act of 2020 was introduced in the House as H.B. 4542 and referred to the House Health and Human Resources Committee, now the Act has been introduced in the Senate as S.B. 679 and referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

This is good news for our drinking water! The Clean Drinking Water Act of 2020 tackles a nasty class of chemical toxins called PFAS.

The Act aims to identify sources of PFAS contamination and establishes safe limits on the amount of PFAS in our water supplies. While we are keeping the pressure on the House Health and Human Resources Committee to put the Act on their agenda, now is the time to let your senators know that you support the Clean Drinking Water Act! Send them a message here.

Also look out for confirmation about a press conference on this bill tentatively scheduled for February 5, 1:30pm outside the Capitol along the Kanawha River – details to come!

Oil & Gas Industry Seeks to Expedite Permitting, While WVDEP is Running Out of Money

As you might imagine, the oil and gas industry has a big lobby presence at the Capitol. We are tracking bills moving quickly and intervening where we can to make sure our water resources are protected.

One bill up for passage next week is HB4091, which allows for expedited oil and gas well permitting for an extra fee.

What we’ve helped uncover is that the permit fees that fund WVDEP’s Office of Oil and Gas are not enough to cover WVDEP’s responsibilities to review and write permits, conduct inspections, and enforce permits over the life of a well.

WVDEP confirmed that their Office of Oil and Gas is operating at nearly $1.5 million annual deficit, and will completely run out of money in just a few months. We are urging legislators to immediately begin addressing this crisis by amending HB4091 to add fees for permit modifications as a partial solution to make sure WVDEP can meet their oversight obligations. HB4091 is expected to be in amendment stage on the Senate floor on Tuesday – we’ll keep you posted!

We are also tracking closely any sign of movement on HB4079 that would remove certain oil and gas tanks near drinking water intakes from regulation under the Aboveground Storage Tank Act. So far, your messages to keep it off a committee agenda are succeeding. That could change very quickly, so please stay tuned to our updates.

Water Study Commission Bill Being Considered

At last, a legislative committee is considering a recommendation put forward by the Public Water System Supply Study Commission (PWSSSC). WV Rivers was appointed to the PWSSSC through legislation passed in the wake of the 2014 water crisis. Each year, we participated in PWSSSC’s development and submission of annual policy recommendations to the legislature.

A recommendation to provide public water utilities more information about pollution violations happening upstream of their intakes is being considered by the Senate Industry, Energy and Mining committee.

After a hearing on the proposed originating bill last week, a subcommittee was formed to work up language for the bill. WV Rivers will be involved in stakeholder meetings advising the subcommittee, beginning next week.

2020 Legislative Session: Tracking Water Policy

The West Virginia legislative session kicked-off on Wednesday, January 8 and will run until March 7. WV Rivers will be there as the voice for safe, clean, wild rivers and streams.

Below you’ll find some of our Water Policy Priorities and their current status. View our bill tracker on the WV Rivers’ website for the latest on each bill as they are introduced.

HB4079 – Altering the definition of an aboveground storage tank. We oppose this bill that exempts certain tanks used by the oil and gas industry closest to public drinking water intakes from the Aboveground Storage Tank Act. In House Energy Committee.

HB4542 / SB679 – Clean Drinking Water Act of 2020: We support this Act, which addresses the risks posed by group of unregulated chemicals called polyfluoroalkyl substances, or “PFAS”. PFAS are man-made, persist in the environment, and are known to cause cancer and other adverse health effects. Learn more and watch a press conference on the Clean Drinking Water Act here. In House Health and Human Resources Committee. HB4542 in House Health and Human Resources Committee; SB679 in Senate Judiciary.

Recommendations of the Public Water System Supply Study Commission: We support the implementation of recommendations of the WV Public Water System Supply Study Commission, which was formed in response to the 2014 WV Water Crisis. Originating Bill dealing with recommended notice of permit violations to downstream water utility in Senate Energy, Industry and Mining subcommittee.

Updated Penalties for Water Quality Violations: We’re seeing multi-billion dollar pipeline projects repeatedly violate their permits, resulting in harm to waterbodies across the state with relatively minimal monetary consequences. We support legislation that takes steps to deter polluters from breaking the law by updating penalty calculations. Awaiting Introduction.

Protecting the State’s Waters from Coal Company Bankruptcies: As more coal companies declare bankruptcy, our rivers and streams impacted by mining are at great risk for being left without the clean-up they deserve. We support legislation that holds coal companies accountable for their environmental degradation and ensures they pay for related clean-ups. Tracking DEP Surface Mining Rule revisions to bonding requirements moving through House.

We also support legislation to establish the Just Transition Office (HB4574 in House Small Business, Entrepreneurship and Economic Development Committee) which would help communities most impacted by the declining coal industry; and the Environmental Rights Amendment (HJR25 in House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee), which would secure West Virginian’s rights to clean water, pure air, and a healthy environment.

Upcoming Legislative Events

Grassroots WV Local Campaigns & Lobby Day – February 3

Are you thinking about organizing a local campaign on an issue? Join WV Rivers and allies for a workshop on how to run a grassroots advocacy campaign on February 3 in Charleston. After learning campaign management best practices, head over to the Capitol to lobby your legislators on the issues that matter to you. Learn more and register here.

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