A worrisome bill requiring drastic new reporting requirements for the discharge of deleterious substance into state waters was heavily amended in subcommittee on Monday night before finally reporting to the full House Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee.
HB 1205 (Tran) sought to decrease from 24 hours to eight hours the time frame for any person who unlawfully discharges any deleterious substance into state waters to give notice to the Director of the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) or the local coordinator of emergency services. The bill also requires DEQ to give the reported discharge information to the Virginia Department of Health (VDH), local newspapers, television stations, and radio stations, and disseminate via commonly used social media platforms and email notification lists within eight hours of receipt of such information. At the outset of the hearing, the eight-hour requirements were amended by the patron and increased to 12 hours
While the underlying idea of public disclosure of possible pollutants in waterways is certainly sound, the practical effect of an 8-hour or 12-hour reporting window is worrisome. What would happen if the discharge happened after hours or on a holiday? Would DEQ or VDH even have staff available to receive this information at all hours? Given all of these questions and concerns, the subcommittee opted to change the reporting window back to 24 hours, but they did keep intact the second prong of the legislation, which requires the DEQ to report this information not merely to local newspapers, but to all possible media outlets to ensure timely and effective dissemination.
HB 1205 survived subcommittee by a vote of 5-3 and will now be heard by the full full House Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday morning.
VACo Contact: Chris McDonald, Esq.