CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Citizen groups are gearing up for a public hearing this evening on a bill aimed at exempting from West Virginia's landmark landfill tonnage limits waste from the boom in natural gas drilling in the state's Marcellus Shale region.
The House Judiciary Committee scheduled the public hearing on the bill (HB4411) for 5 p.m. at the House chamber.
Activists and citizens from the Marcellus region were at the Capitol already for the West Virginia Environmental Council's annual "E-Day" lobbying event.
The bill, supported by the state Department of Environmental Protection, would help state regulators quell an ongoing controversy over the dumping of huge amounts of gas-drilling waste -- in some cases in violation of existing landfill waste caps.
"The caps were sacred, and DEP has done away with them with the stroke of a pen," said Norm Steenstra, who was environmental council's lead lobbyist two decades ago when the Legislature passed tough new garbage laws.
Steenstra referred to a January 2013 memo in which DEP allowed landfills accepting drilling waste to exceed their current monthly caps if they are seeking new state permits to increase those caps. The new legislation would essentially write DEP's action into state law.
DEP Secretary Randy Huffman previously described the issue as "kind of an emergency situation" in which some landfills were in danger of exceeding their legal tonnage caps.
Scott Mandirola, director of DEP's Division of Water and Waste Management, said that under the existing tonnage caps, "There aren't enough landfills to take the material" from the state's natural gas drilling boom.
As part of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's "Horizontal Drilling Act," passed during a special session in December 2011, lawmakers tried to encourage disposal of solid wastes from drilling operations in permitted landfills.