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Delegate Hansen to introduce Safe Drinking Water Act, revive Environmental Rights Amendment

MORGANTOWN — Delegate Evan Hansen, D-Monongalia, will be introducing a bill in January aimed at protecting the state’s drinking water. He also plans to reintroduce a proposed Constitutional amendment to make clean water a recognized human right.

Hansen and some colleagues announced both measures Monday during a Capitol press conference.

Hansen hooked his announcement on the current theatrical run of “Dark Waters,” a fictionalized account of a lawyer filing lawsuits against DuPont for leaking chemicals known as PFASs into the water supply from its Wood County Teflon plant.

PFASs are found in various household products and cleaning supplies, in water-repellant fabric AND firefighting foam. They are suspected of being carcinogenic.

The chemicals don’t break down and remain in the environment and in the bodies of humans and animals, said Hansen, a water research scientist and principal of the Morgantown consulting firm Downstream Strategies. “Sadly many of those toxic pollutants remain unregulated.”

The goal of his Clean Drinking Water Act, he said, is to reduce the level of toxins in the environment and strengthen the economy. It would identify where PFASs are being used and discharged, and require the dischargers to disclose those discharges so they can be regulated.

 It would also require the state Department of Environmental Protection to require dischargers to monitor those discharges so the DEP could build a database to more intelligently develop regulations and permitting. The DEP would provide regular reports to the Legislature.

The bill would also, he said, use science to develop maximum contaminant levels for public drinking water systems.

All this would require time and money, he said, so safeguards are built into the bill so it wouldn’t become an unfunded mandate.

His Environmental Rights Amendment was introduced last year as HJR 25. It says, ““The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic, and esthetic values of the environment. West Virginia’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the State shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people.”

It had 31 cosponsors but never came out of committee. Pennsylvania and Montana already have similar amendments and other state legislatures are looking at them.

In a handout explaining the amendment, Hansen says placing this right in the state Bill of Rights means it’s recognized as a natural and unalienable right to be protected from government infringement. “It provides broad guidance that ensures government decision-making considers environmental impacts early in the process, when prevention of pollution and environmental harm is most possible. It also provides a backstop that can be used by community, public, government, and business interests to provide a check on government authority that overreaches and fails to protect environmental rights.”

Hansen said that the Pennsylvania and Montana amendments have not adversely affected the construction industry. “It is a high bar to demonstrate a constitutional violation, and this language would not prevent the construction or destruction of buildings absent a significant environmental impact.”

Several people spoke at the press conference to support both measures. Delegate Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, represents downtown Charleston, the epicenter of the 2014 Freedom Industries chemical spill. Some businesses are still reeling from that, he said.

One of the biggest barriers to growth and diversification, and one of the biggest contributors to outmigration, he said, is the state’s negative image. “he best way to address, this, I feel, is to focus on improving the quality of life for all West Virginians. What’s more vital to the quality of life than clean safe drinking water?”

Delegate John Doyle, D-Jefferson, said “The people of West Virginia want clean air and clean water. … Polluting industries drive away clean industries. That’s why our economy’s in the tank.”

Tracy Danzey, of Jefferson County, isn’t a legislator and offered a more personal story on the need for clean water. Water polluted with a PFAS known as C8, she said, destroyed her thyroid function and led her to develop osteosarcoma – bone cancer – at age 25. She lost a hip and leg to the cancer.

“We as West Virginians should not have to suffer these consequences of just living here,” she said. “There is no future if there’s no safety if there’s no promise for tomorrow.”

Constitutional amendments must be approved by two-thirds of each legislative chamber to go onto a ballot, for approval by a majority of the voters who turn out.

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