The WV-DEP Should Reform Itself, in the Public Interest

by Duane Nichols on April 24, 2015

MORGANTOWN DOMINION POST editorial Monday 20 April 2015

Can the WV-DEP reform itself?

Environmental well-being is primarily a function of regulatory well-being. That at least is the idea in the state Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) realm.

The DEP is still the principal agency that West Virginia deploys to monitor its hills, rivers and streams and its air. But is that as true as we would like to think?

While some try to portray the WV-DEP as yet another regulatory bogeyman, others call it the Department of Environmental Prevarication.

In the past, we have leaned more toward the latter description. However, in recent weeks, the DEP has taken initiatives that give one reason for hope. For instance, this past week, the DEP ordered more than 90 coal prep plants to disclose potential pollutants that could be dumped into waterways. The DEP said that order will better protect state streams and that any additional costs should not be significant compared to the liability for polluting waterways.

That agency also recently hosted a public hearing on water quality standards, part of one program’s annual quarterly meetings. These meetings agendas also don’t dawdle on fluff, either.

The most recent agenda took up proposed changes to aluminum and selenium criteria and an update on algae monitoring done in 2014. The DEP has also become much more visible in the state’s annual spring highway cleanup, through the Adopt-A-Highway program.

Clearly, for those who take a dim view of the DEP’s efforts — and we often count ourselves among them — there are also reasons to think nothing has changed. For example, the state’s Environmental Quality Board recently said the DEP violated state law when it allowed a company to operate two underground injection wells with a “rule” it issued, instead of a state permit.

Or the WV-DEP’s almost cavalier approach to reports of black water flowing into a Raleigh County stream. Only after it responded in a timely manner on the fourth report was a coal company cited.

There was also the incident of orange rocks in the Cheat River at the mouth of Muddy Creek recently, which the DEP appeared nonchalant about investigating, and no one was held accountable.

No, the DEP has not cast off its bureaucracy and still appears to lean in on industry’s side more often than it does the environment’s. However, because of the DEP’s increased manpower and funding, as well as coal’s diminishing influence, this could change.

In the interest of everyone’s well-being, it should.


{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

A P Mama April 24, 2015 at 7:01 am

There are many good people at the WV-DEP who really try to do a good job.

I would like to see their budget increase so that they could hire more inspectors, but more importantly, the laws need to improve so that their regulatory function has more bite.

So, the Legislature and the Governor bear some responsibility!


Veronica Coptis April 28, 2015 at 4:08 am

OBSERVER REPORTER Letter to Editor, April 27, 2015

More oversight needed on shale industry

From the beginning, horizontal drilling and fracking in Southwestern Pennsylvania have been experiments undertaken by the shale gas industry. The industry chose to use our communities as testing grounds for new methods of extraction and production, relying on reckless ideas like direct disposal of wastewater into our rivers and streams.

Over time, the industry has admitted to making things up as they go, and other states have watched things play out from the sidelines. Meanwhile, the commonwealth has consistently failed to hold the industry accountable for its actions and failed to protect public health and the environment.

As the Department of Environmental Protection revisits some of its oil and gas regulations, we must demand more state oversight of an industry that has gotten away with so much for too long. On Wednesday, starting at 6 p.m., there will be a hearing at Washington & Jefferson College on these regulations, known as Chapter 78. Thus far, there are many proposed improvements to the regulations, but they are still not enough to keep our communities and the environment safe.

The DEP must prohibit operators from using open pits, which we know leak, for storage of contaminants; require drillers to check for orphaned and abandoned wells near their drilling pads and paths; restore clean water to those whose water supplies have been affected by drilling; implement noise controls to protect the quality of life near well pads; increase public participation in the permitting process for oil and gas surface infrastructure; and include a 1-mile minimum setback from schools.

These are just some recommendations to make our communities safer and more livable, now and for years to come.

Veronica Coptis, Carmichaels, PA, deputy director
of the Center for Coalfield Justice.


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