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Groups Push Back On House Bill To Limit Use Of Air Monitoring Data

Rad carpet and 100 desks around a podium
The West Virginia House of Delegates chamber.
Perry Bennett/WV Legislative Photography

Community and environmental groups testified Friday morning in a public hearing against House Bill 5018

The bill would limit how community air monitoring data could be used in court cases or to affect regulations. West Virginia’s industrial and mining trade groups support the bill, but most people spoke in opposition.

Bill Bissett, president of the West Virginia Manufacturers Association, compared the situation to a citizen who bought a radar gun to monitor speeding drivers in the neighborhood. Only police can enforce the law, not the citizen.

“We are in no way against community monitoring, but also do not believe that environmental activist groups should become regulatory agencies,” he said. “It is important to recognize that this bill, House Bill 5018, does not stop community air monitoring. Community air monitoring has occurred in the past and it will continue into the future.”

Angie Rosser, executive director of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition, noted, as many other speakers did, that the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection has a limited number of its own air monitors statewide. The DEP needs citizen input, Rosser said.

“DEP’s resources are limited, they have 18 ambient air quality monitor data across the state,” she said. “This leaves large gaps and information and data and that’s, as it’s been said, where community monitors play an important role in providing information where people live. The legislature and industry should be embracing community efforts.”

Pam Nixon, president of People Concerned About Chemical Safety, said residents use devices called purple air monitors to measure industrial pollution in their communities. Nixon is a former resident of Institute, a Black-majority town where poor air quality has been an issue for decades.

“Low-income communities and communities of color are already vulnerable due to proximity to polluting industries emitting fine particles, which include chemical plants, coal fired power plants, fossil fuel drilling sites for oil and gas mining sites, diesel fuel trucking companies, and asphalt and concrete plants to name a few,” she said.

An attempt by House Democrats to amend the bill failed on Friday. It now goes to third reading.