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PANEL REJECTS PLAN TO WEAKEN POLLUTION RULES


Publication: THE CHARLESTON GAZETTE
Published: Friday, June 17, 1994
Page: P1D
Byline: Ken Ward Jr.

At issue A committee appointed by Gov. Caperton refused to relax state standards on measuring pollution in state waters. The change was requested by a company that wants to build a paper plant in Mason County. The recommendation is not binding on the governor.

A committee appointed more than a year ago by Gov. Gaston Caperton recommended Thursday that the state not weaken its water pollution regulations.

By a 7-1 vote, the panel rejected another request from the company that wants to build a $1 billion pulp and paper mill along the Ohio River in Mason County.

The decision, if backed by the governor, could end a long legislative and public relations campaign about what one labor organization dubbed the "Cancer Creek" bill.

Industry lobbying groups, however, could still push the Legislature to ignore the panel's recommendation.

Thad Epps, regional spokesman for Union Carbide Corp., said the state's regulations - which industry officials insist are tougher than surrounding states - would put West Virginia at a competitive disadvantage.

"We're just adding one more hurdle that has to be jumped over for good jobs in this state, and to me that seems dumb" said Epps, who served on Caperton's study group.

Epps did not cite any examples of new industrial project that did not come to West Virginia because of the state's water pollution laws.

Committee member Joe Powell, president of the state AFL-CIO, noted chemical plants in the Kanawha Valley have lived with the state's current regulations for 20 years.

"Since they've done that, I don't see any need to change the rules," Powell said.

Epps was the only committee member to vote against keeping the state's current regulations. Charleston businessman Newton Thomas left the meeting before the vote was taken.

At issue is a debate over two ways of calculating water pollution.

Currently, West Virginia figures water pollution based on the amount of water flowing in a river during the seven lowest flow days over the last 10 years. The Caperton administration had backed a change to calculating pollution based on the "harmonic mean," or the average daily flow for a river or stream.

Though proponents say the harmonic mean is more accurate, they concede using larger water amounts in the calculations will allow allow larger amounts of chemicals to be dumped into rivers and streams.

Concern about changing the method first became public as part of the controversy over the Apple Grove Pulp and Paper Co. mill proposed for Mason County.

When lawmakers refused to increase the amount of dioxin that the mill could emit into the Ohio River, developers instead said they wanted to change the way that pollution would be calculated.

Dioxin is a byproduct of bleaching paper with chlorine or chlorine compounds Other chemical companies quickly jumped on ship, saying they, too, favored the harmonic mean recommended by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and used in some other states.

Laurie Bryan, environmental manager for Apple Grove, told committee members on Thursday that her company favors the harmonic mean method.

Bryan said the change would increase the amount dioxin her company's mill produces from 0.02 ounces in 100 years to 0.08 ounces in 100 years. She said that amount could not be detected by state regulators and would not harm the public.

Committee member Kim Baker, president of the West Virginia Environmental Council, said "the EPA has said there is no safe level of dioxin. As far as we know, one molecule of dioxin in your body can give you cancer." Bryan said her company's proposed mill could operate within the state's current rules. She declined to say whether Apple Grove's parent company, Parsons & Whittemore, would drop the project if the regulations are not weakened.

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