CHARLESTON – It shouldn’t be difficult to change state rules that are stricter than those that are recommended by a left-leaning 2014 Environmental Protection Agency and that have been adopted by neighboring states.
Yet that is the strange situation we find ourselves in as we debate House Bill 2506 in the Legislature.
HB 2506 would allow use of the EPA-recommended harmonic mean flow and overlapping mixing zones to calculate permit limits for the protection of drinking water in the state. It would not change the water quality criteria for the protection of human health. It would not alter the fact that, at a public water supply intake, the water must be of the quality that has been deemed safe by the state. In fact, that safe level would have to be met for at least a half-mile upstream, as an additional margin of safety.
The House of Delegates passed the bill, and it has been sent to the state Senate Judiciary Committee.
Media reports and rhetoric of environmental groups would lead you to conclude that there is some valve that will be turned to dump more waste into the streams the moment this law becomes effective. This notion is as ridiculous as it is offensive.
Wastewater treatment systems at manufacturing plants treat their process water with state-of-the-art systems that, at their hearts, employ trillions of microscopic bacteria to convert all manner of complex chemicals to less harmful substances. We don’t tweak those systems to discharge at exactly our permit limits — we operate them to achieve the best pollution reduction possible, and regularly achieve results that are far better than the law requires, for protection of human health and otherwise.
Why, then, change the law? There are several reasons. Under rules that apply to industrial wastewater permitting, the ability to use larger mixing zones and harmonic mean flow make it easier to demonstrate that our current discharges pose no reasonable potential to cause a violation of the standards at a drinking water intake.
Having the same standards as our neighboring states, such as Ohio, makes it easier to bring in new businesses, like an ethane cracker.
HB 2506 would allow the state more flexibility to co-locate plants with discharges near one another, cutting the footprint of multiple plants making it more efficient to share utilities and re-use now vacant industrial properties.
And if we are lucky enough to attract more jobs, and more people to the state, those new arrivals will need to have their waste treated. It’s easy to forget sometimes that our citizens produce sewage, that cities and towns need wastewater permits, and have an equal obligation to protect downstream intakes.
Can we point to each job that would be created by adoption of HB 2506? No, we can’t, any more than the opposition can point to a single person who would be adversely affected by its adoption.
But we all know that a brick doesn’t make a house, and one vote seldom decides an election. In the same way, it’s the cumulative effect of regulations that holds us back.
Here is one change the Legislature can adopt that won’t sacrifice public health, and can make it a little easier for businesses to locate and thrive in the Mountain State.
McPhail is president of the West Virginia Manufacturers Association.
(Editor's Note: The column originally appeared in the Charleston Gazette-Mail on the Daily Mail editorial page)