Issue 1:Despite Progress, West Virginia's Water Quality Standards are Still Inadequate.
The Board promulgates water quality standards to be in compliance with federal regulations of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). These standards are then enforced by the West Virginia Division of Environmental Protection (DEP). The purpose of water quality standards is to maintain and protect existing water quality and water uses. Currently, West Virginia's water quality standards are inadequate. The State lacks an anti-degradation implementation plan, and two sections of the existing water quality standards remain dis-approved by the EPA. An Anti Degradation Implementation Plan is intended to provide methods of preventing the degradation of existing water quality and water uses.
The lack of an anti-degradation implementation plan as well as outstanding dis-approvals could lead to lower water quality which could result in potential health concerns, and a loss of aquatic life. Inadequate water quality standards could also result in the EPA promulgating water quality standards for the State, which may be more restrictive than the State can abide by. If the State cannot abide by the standards promulgated by the Federal government, the State could lose federal funds.
Issue 2:The Timeliness of the Board's Appeals Process has Improved
The Board hears appeals from the regulated community as well as concerned citizens on permitting and enforcement decisions made by offices within the DEP. These include the issuance or denial of permits or modifications to permits as well as disciplinary actions performed by the DEP. For example, concerned citizens may object to the issuance of a permit by DEP to a company because the permit allegedly violates water quality standards or has other environmental concerns.
In a previous audit conducted by the Legislative Auditor's Office in 1993, timeliness was identified as a concern. However, since 1993, the average time taken by the Board to decide appeals has decreased from nearly 18 months to 6 months. Also, the majority of appeals received by the Board in the past three years have been decided in a year or less.
Two main factors contribute to the reduction in the average time for the Board to decide appeals. First, the Board has made an effort to limit the number and length of continuances granted. Second, a decrease in the average number of appeals received each year has helped to decrease the average time to decide appeals. However, since the number of appeals affects the average time for the Board to decide appeals, the Board should consider instituting time standards as well as an expedited appeal process to maintain timeliness should the number of appeals received increase.
This report contains the following recommendations:
The Legislative Auditor recommends that the Environmental Quality Board complete the Anti-Degradation Implementation Plan for approval by the legislative session of the year 2000.
The Legislative Auditor recommends that the Environmental Quality Board continue to work diligently to remove all EPA disapproved items of the state's water quality standards. It is also recommended that the Board continue in its timeliness of conducting Triennial Reviews.
The Legislative Auditor recommends that the Environmental Quality Board incorporate in its procedural rules a time standard as an operating goal towards the efficient treatment of appeals. The rules should also include a formal expedited process for appellants who choose the expedited option.