Mine Safety, Water Quality Targeted in West Virginia Bills

By Elizabeth E. Payne

A proposed bill, S.B. 582, would significantly diminish the state’s authority to regulate and enforce safety standards in coal mines. Critics say it undoes years of legislative progress toward protecting miners.

“It’s breathtaking in its scope,” Davitt McAteer, a mine safety expert, told the Charleston Gazette-Mail.

Among other changes, the industry-backed bill reduces the number and limits the scope of visits by state safety inspectors, limits the ability to cite violations unless “imminent danger” can be proven and targets individual employees rather than mine operators and companies when violations are discovered.

Another bill that changes how the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection measures water pollution passed through the state Senate on March 28 and is awaiting the governor’s signature. The current rules are based on the amount of pollution that can be allowed in a waterway during the lowest seven-day water flow over a ten-year period. The new bill, H.B. 2506, would set levels based on average stream flow.

The new regulation would allow more pollution to be permitted in waterways and was lobbied for by industry groups.

The state DEP also removed language from its permitting process that protected communities from noise and light pollution near compressor stations and other facilities. The change was undertaken at the request of the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association.

Coal companies owned by Jim Justice, now the state’s governor, owe the state $4.4 million in unpaid back taxes.


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