Water Policy News: First Update of the 2023 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.

Easy Action: Contact your Legislators and encourage them to co-sponsor the PFAS Protection Act! (West Virginia Residents Only)

Top 3 Water Policy Priorities

On Wednesday, January 11, the West Virginia Legislature convened in Charleston to begin the 60-day 2023 legislative session. We’ve identified three policies that are essential to the health and safety of West Virginia’s water resources. You can learn more about each of these policies, track water related bills as they progress through the legislature, and find our must urgent calls to action on our water policy webpage.

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2023 Water Policy Priorities

Protect Drinking Water from Toxic Chemicals – PFAS Protection Act 

In 2020, the Legislature directed state agencies to conduct a statewide PFAS study (SCR 46). That study detected PFAS at 130 community drinking water sources in WV, at concentrations greatly exceeding EPA’s health advisory levels. PFAS (per- and polyflouroalkyl substances) are a group of man-made chemicals that pose serious dangers to human health; they are known carcinogens, and exposure affects the immune and cardiovascular systems.

We urge the Legislature to adopt the PFAS Protection Act to reduce public health risks posed from PFAS.  

Preserve Protections in the Aboveground Storage Tank Act

The Aboveground Storage Tank Act, enacted after a leaky chemical tank contaminated the drinking water of 300,000 West Virginians in 2014, provides standards and oversight to prevent releases from tanks into water supplies. Legislation has been introduced to exempt certain oil and gas waste tanks from the Act, even those in “zones of critical concern” – the areas closest to public drinking water intakes.

We urge the Legislature to reject further weakening of the AST Act. 

Fully Fund the Office of Oil & Gas  

In 2020, DEP’s Office of Oil & Gas cut nearly 40% of its staff due to recurring budget shortfalls. With over 65,000 wells in the state, now there is only one inspector per 5,000 gas wells. Currently, the Office is funded solely through one-time fees on new permit applications. This funding structure is inconsistent with other DEP Offices and is insufficient for sustaining the agency’s oversight responsibility for all activities related to the exploration, drilling, storage and production of oil and natural gas.

We urge the Legislature to restore the Office of Oil & Gas to full staffing levels.

What is the PFAS Protection Act and Why is it so Important?

A map of WV depicting detections of PFAS exceeding health advisories at 130 red dots scattered throughout the state.

Our #1 priority this legislative session is the passage of an important bill that helps protect drinking water sources from toxic PFAS pollution. PFAS, also know as “forever chemicals”, are man-made chemicals that do not breakdown in the environment. They are known to cause cancer and have been found in waters throughout West Virginia. In fact, a study by the state found PFAS in the pre-treated drinking water for 130 community water systems that serve around 700,000 West Virginians!

If that’s not concerning enough, a new study was published in the Journal of Environmental Research finding freshwater fish contain dangerous levels of PFAS, read an article on CNN. According to the study, the levels of PFOS (a type of PFAS) found in freshwater fish often exceeds an astounding 8,000 parts per trillion. The current recommended limit to protect human health from PFOS in drinking water is only .02 parts per trillion.

What does this all mean? We know that the raw (pre-treated) drinking water for about 700,000 West Virginians contain PFAS levels above current health recommendations. We can make the assumption that the fish living in these waters also contain unsafe amounts of PFAS in their flesh.

What needs to happen? West Virginia must act now to address PFAS pollution. It is not the responsibility of community water systems or consumers to treat their water to remove dangerous PFAS. These chemicals must be stopped at their source and polluters must be held accountable.

The West Virginia Legislature can take an important step towards protecting human and environmental health by passing the PFAS Protection Act. But, before they can vote on the Act it needs to be introduced. We are asking West Virginians to contact their Delegates and Senators to ask them to become a co-sponsor of the the PFAS Protection Act.

We know this strategy is working! On Thursday (1/19) morning, WV Rivers Executive Director, Angie Rosser, shared an update from the Capitol. She confirmed that Legislators are hearing from constituents about the PFAS Protection Act and that those messages are making a difference! Send a message to your Legislators. Already sent a message? Forward this message on to your family and friends in West Virginia!

Lunch & Learn Webinars Scheduled

Over the next weeks, we’ve scheduled 30-minute Lunch & Learn webinars to share information about important policies where your voice matters. Webinar registrants will received a recording of the webinar. Hope to see you on Zoom!

Jan 26 at 12:00pm: PFAS In Untreated Drinking Water. During this 30-minute lunch and learn, you’ll hear from experts about PFAS contamination in West Virginia’s water and how the West Virginia Legislature can take meaningful action to help protect public and environmental health. Register for the webinar.

February 2 at 12:00pm: Mountain Valley Pipeline How to Comment on Upcoming Permit Approvals. Two permits from federal agencies are pending approval and you have the opportunity to comment on them. Join our webinar on how you can craft and submit your comments. Register for the webinar.

February 8 at 12:00pm: Methane, Climate Change, and an Opportunity to Comment on Proposed EPA Regulations. Learn about a proposed EPA rule to limit methane pollution and how you can comment. Register for the webinar.

February 16 at 12:00pm: Four Facts and Three Concerns about YOUR West Virginia Public Lands. Join us on February 16 at noon for a conversation about the local, state, and national lands we West Virginians own or manage! Join Mike Jones, Public Lands Campaign Coordinator, for some trivia, learn about policy issues, and find out some ways you can get involved to assuring non-motorize recreation on our outstanding, Wild and Wonderful, public lands is available for ALL! Register for the webinar.

February 23 at 12:00pm: What is Blue Hydrogen? As industry and political interests increase around our state and country in using hydrogen as a fuel source, it is important to understand the risks to our public and environmental health. While there are many ways to make hydrogen fuel, one process gaining traction in our state is called “blue hydrogen” — which will use natural gas fracking to bring together methane and water and produce hydrogen with a carbon by-product, which is then captured and stored. Before West Virginia volunteers to be the next “hydrogen hub,” we need to consider the potential impacts to our communities. Register for the webinar.

Be Seen, Be Heard, Be a Citizen Advocate

What do you need to know to confidently speak up on the issues you care about? We need you, and your voice, to be a part of the decision-making process during the 2023 West Virginia Legislative Session. Please fill out this brief survey so that WV Rivers can offer a 1-hour training to inspire and empower you to make your voice heard!

Lobby Days at the Capitol

Citizen lobby days at the West Virginia Capitol are a great way for you to meet fellow advocates, learn about policies legislators are considering, and connect with organizations that share your values. Say “hi” to WV Rivers team members at the following citizen lobby days!

February 15: Black Policy Breakfast and Day of Action. Download a copy of the policy agenda.

February 28: Environment Day at the Capitol. Read about the legislative priorities.

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