It's not possible to tell what the final standard would be from the West Virginia bill, but the Kentucky attempt will undoubtedly be instructive. There, regulators wanted to allow greater than 10 times more pollution than the current water-based standard for one-time exposure.
The standard for long-time exposure would be shifted from water-based to exposure in fish tissue -- even though selenium pollution can decimate aquatic life, making it very difficult to even find fish to test.
If this isn't about the science, and it isn't about phantom proposals by the EPA, what is it about?
The answer is as obvious as it is distressing: West Virginia lawmakers are putting the profit of a declining industry above the best interests of the people and environment of the state. Again.
Weakening selenium standards will make it harder to hold coal companies accountable for the damage they cause. It will keep the massive destruction of mountaintop removal mining affordable -- for the coal industry, if not the taxpayers.
Such actions will make it more difficult to attract industries that, unlike Appalachian coal, aren't on a clear glide path to irrelevancy.
Lawmakers can weaken the standards, but changing the law won't change reality: Selenium pollution will continue to harm aquatic life and destroy the biological integrity of streams. Eventually, the pollution will have to be treated, and the enormous cost will fall on the taxpayers of the state.
Citizens of West Virginia shouldn't let that happen without a fight.
Radmacher is communications director for Appalachian Mountain Advocates, appalmad.org.