WV-DEP eliminates protections for noise, light from natural gas facilities
From an Article by Ken Ward, Jr., Charleston Gazette-Mail, February 11, 2017
Less than two weeks after taking office, Gov. Jim Justice’s administration quietly deleted permit language intended to protect residents in West Virginia’s natural gas regions from excessive noise and bright lights from compressor stations and other facilities that are springing up across those communities.
On January 27, the state Department of Environmental Protection removed from a streamlined permit for compressor stations and some other facilities language that stated such operations “shall not create a nuisance to the surrounding community by way of unreasonable noise and light during operations.”
The WV-DEP’s action comes just five months after agency lawyers, under the Tomblin administration, successfully defended the language against a legal challenge from the industry trade association. The reversal by the new leadership at WV-DEP was noted on a posting buried on the agency website, and it emerged publicly only when mention of it showed up in one of Caperton’s emails, included as part of a collection of documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.
Environmental groups and citizen organizations were shocked when they heard from a reporter about the WV-DEP’s action, saying agency officials had not consulted them or even informed them of the move despite citizens having played a central role in 2015 in convincing then-DEP Secretary Randy Huffman the additional protections were needed for residents who live in the midst of the Marcellus Shale boom.
“To say we are disappointed in this decision is an understatement,” said Julie Archer, project manager for the West Virginia Surface Owners’ Rights Organization, a group of landowners in the gas-producing counties of the state. “We feel completely ambushed. Eliminating these provisions is a huge disservice to those living near these facilities, and it’s shameful that we are going to allow their lives, health and property to be ruined simply because the industry doesn’t want to put adequate protections in place.”
Fred Durham, the WV-DEP air quality director who signed the permit change, did not return repeated phone calls. Neither Caperton nor the WV-DEP’s acting public information officer, Jake Glance, responded to offers to allow them to explain the agency’s decision. Caperton, on orders from the governor’s office, has declined interview invitations from the Gazette-Mail.
Anne Blankenship, executive director of the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association, indicated her organization was pleased with the WV-DEP decision, citing in an email the same legal arguments her group raised about the permit language — and that the state Air Quality Board rejected in a unanimous decision in August.
“Not only were the noise and light conditions vague and unclear, which made compliance with them very difficult, such conditions are outside the jurisdiction of the Division of Air Quality as noise and light are not air pollutants,” Blankenship wrote in her email message.
Last week, during his State of the State address, Justice said he had ordered Caperton and the WV-DEP to stop saying “no” to business and industry. Justice did not offer any examples of the WV-DEP doing so, but he used part of his televised speech to blast the agency’s inspectors, saying they needed to stop wearing T-shirts and old jeans and looking like they “maybe haven’t shaved forever.”
“Now listen, I think they ought to look like something,” Justice said of the WV-DEP’s inspectors. “And they will look like something, or we’ll have them tending to Grizzly Adams.”
(Part 2 to be posted tomorrow)
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WV-DEP Secretary Austin Caperton will appear at a Public Forum on Monday, February 27th at 7 pm. The location is the Shenandoah Room of the Mountainlair (WVU Student Center) on University Avenue (main campus). This event was arranged by the WVU Student Sierra Coalition and the Mon Group of the WV Sierra Club. Caperton will discuss the goals for the WV-DEP and answer questions.