Senate Judiciary Chairman Jeff Kessler has invited representatives of the West Virginia Coal Association and the Sludge Safety Project to a hearing in Charleston on Tuesday. Also set to appear is Virginia Tech professor Roe-Han Yoon, who will discuss alternatives to injecting slurry.
Kessler said his committee has met privately for months with industry and environmentalists, and they are finding common ground. Coal companies realize they may be able to minimize disposal costs, break even or perhaps make money, he said, while also reducing backlash.
Still, legislators may still have to force change, he said.
"If it requires a kick in the pants to get them moving -- an incentive or whatever -- we may have to do that,'' said Kessler, D-Marshall.
Huffman said he doesn't have the power to change the rules but sees alternative disposal methods as "something we very seriously need to consider.''
"I think the rational, responsible companies are looking at this, and they're understanding they need to do something different,'' he said.
Huffman acknowledged DEP still can't answer many questions raised more than a year ago. Staff are still entering data about the chemical composition of slurry and the volumes pumped into the earth, relying on reports from the coal operators themselves.
"Everybody has made an assumption that just because slurry is nasty and we're putting it underground and it's near where people live ... it should be obvious that it's causing problems,'' he said. "And we have not made that kind of determination based on the data we have.''
However, he acknowledged, plenty of questions linger.
"There are still a lot of holes in our data,'' he said, "and that's what we're trying to do, plug our data holes.''
WVU research data: http://www.coalslurry.net/
Sludge Safety Project: http://www.sludgesafety.org/coal(underscore)slurry(underscore)inj.ht ml