CHARLESTON, WV—Senator John Unger (D—Berkeley) today introduced a bill to the West Virginia Senate that will require public meetings in the areas impacted by any air or water permits.
Unger’s bill amends agency rules set by the Department of Environmental Protection. It requires all applications for proposed air quality permits in the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) program to have a public meeting in the community where the requested action take place. It additionally requires public notice of such meeting not be published within one week of a federal holiday.
“I was re-elected to represent the concerns of my constituent; chief among which is the backdoor hand-offs of permits, tax credits, and other nebulous economic development incentives that help corporations and harm people,” said Unger. “People who will be affected by development should be able to learn about it, express concerns, and get their questions answered, not be subject to the outcomes of closed-door decisions about their air and water.”
Unger has been outspoken in his criticism against Rockwool, a stone insulation manufacturing facility being built near three different schools in Ranson, Jefferson County. Though the public comment period with Rockwool’s air permit ran legally, a meeting was not held in the community that will be affected, a decision that incensed many community members. “There’s no way Rockwool’s air quality permits should have been approved without a public meeting being held in our community. If the citizens’ voices had been heard, I believe these permits would not have been approved at all,” said Unger.
“We can do better than this,” said Unger. “I want to make sure that in the future, our communities have a chance to give input to the processes that directly affect them, their children, and their property.”
Currently, the Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of Air Quality policy regarding permits for projects like the Rockwool plant requires the DAQ to publicly issue a notice of “intent to issue a permit,” followed by a 45-day public comment period. A physical meeting is allowed, but not required.