On October 23, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) will hold a public hearing on Rockwool’s applications for two stormwater permits. The hearing will begin at 6pm in the Storer Ballroom of the Shepherd University Student Center and will end at 8pm. Any citizen concerned about drinking water should come to this hearing.

One of those permits is for stormwater management during construction. Rockwool had been granted such a permit, but its authorization has expired. So Rockwool had to apply for that permit to be re-issued, because it has more work to do. The other permit is for stormwater management after the plant becomes operational, if it indeed does ever become operational.

I thank WVDEP for holding this hearing, which I and others requested. WVDEP is not required by state law to hold such hearings, but I think it should be so required. We need more transparency in state government.

WVDEP’s public announcement of this hearing came the same day that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced that a rule protecting drinking water would be repealed. This rule set national standards for drinking water protection, provided states adopted them. Twenty-two states had done so; West Virginia was not among them.

Until 2014, West Virginia had a long history of dirty drinking water, going back well over a century. The extractive industries that dominate our state’s economy are largely responsible.

But in 2014, a massive chemical spill in Charleston made drinking water poisonous for over 300,000 people. That year, the Legislature passed one of the most far-reaching water-quality laws ever passed anywhere in our country.

Sadly, the Legislature has spent the five years since then steadily weakening that law. This weakening is the result of successful lobbying by the West Virginia Manufacturers Association (WVMA). WVMA seems to believe that we cannot have jobs if we have clean water. That is, of course, absurd. It’s less expensive to refrain from polluting water than it is to try to clean up polluted water.

Protection Problems

WVMA was the chief culprit earlier this year when it persuaded the DEP to roll back protections for sensitive streams. Those protections were contained in the General Permit for construction-related stormwater. That permit must by law be revisited every five years.

Rebecca McPhail, Executive Director of WVMA, is one of Rockwool’s strongest supporters. She regularly comes up to Jefferson County from her home in Charleston to support Rockwool at public hearings and meetings. Expect her on October 23.

Jefferson County is located primarily on what is called “karst” geology. We sit on a base of rock that is almost entirely limestone, which is extremely porous. Groundwater runs through tunnels that constantly change. Sinkholes open up on the surface without warning, and can grow fast.

Surface water can get into groundwater in Jefferson County quite easily. If that surface water is polluted, the groundwater will be polluted. A large percentage of Jefferson Countians depend on wells for drinking water.

Eastern Berkeley County is also part of this large block of karst. Only one other part of West Virginia— eastern Greenbrier County—is karst. WVDEP says that karst presents a few problems that are different from other geologies in our state, but that those problems are easily handled. I worry that WVDEP might not understand karst well enough.

Additionally, WVDEP is seriously understaffed. One reason for the numerous lawsuits over the construction of several natural gas pipelines in our state is that WVDEP has only five pipeline inspectors for the entire state. I think that’s appalling.

 

— Mr. Doyle represents Jefferson County in the WV House of Delegates—District 67.

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