CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- A controversial bill in Washington could have a major effect in this area, and it's one step closer to becoming reality.
The bill, dubbed the Clean Water Cooperative Federalism Act, would limit the U.S. Enivornmental Protection Agency’s power to enforce water pollution provisions of the Clean Water Act.
Under the measure, the EPA would cede much of its authority over water protection to the states.
The bill, which passed the U.S. House Wednesday on a 239-184 vote, comes amid rising tensions between the bill’s supporters and the EPA. The bill’s sponsors believe the agency has overreached in its power and hampered economic growth in various regions of the country.
West Virginia’s three House members supported the bill, citing the recent veto of a water permit for the Spruce Mine in Logan County. The operation would have brought hundreds of jobs to the region.
But, critics say this bill would be a dangerous step backward.
In a technical assessment of the bill, an EPA official wrote, “The bill would overturn almost 40 years of federal legislation preventing EPA from protecting public health and water quality.”
During debate on the House floor, Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) described the "very chilling effect not only on jobs but on the economic activity" she says the EPA had with its decision on the Spruce Mine.
Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV) says the agency has “run roughshod over the law, over the states and over other federal agencies."
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) was one of several lawmakers who countered West Virginia’s representatives, saying this bill would negatively affect the progress made toward ensuring safe drinking water.
"They would seek to overturn a 40-year record of trying to get people to follow the law," says Blumenauer.
West Virginia state leaders also pushed for the bill, saying the EPA's recent actions, including the spruce mine permit veto, have done too much damage.
Several lawmakers and industry leaders held a press conference at the Capitol Wednesday as Washington lawmakers debated the bill.
"We feel very strongly here in West Virginia that we know what's best. It's not like we have total disregard for our water resources,” says Sen. Mike Green (D-Raleigh).
Roger Horton, chair of the safety committee for UMWA Local 5958 District 17 in Logan, spoke about the impact he says the EPA has had on his job security.
“I'm a working miner, and each and every day I go to work I'm wondering if I'm going to be employed the next day,” says Horton.
But, opponents say this bill would eliminate an important safeguard.
"It is important that EPA has the opportunity to withhold, to have some sanction, when states don't follow through on their plans," says Blumenauer.
The House also supported an amendment to this bill by Capito that would require the EPA to take economic impacts into account when making decisions.
The bill still has to get through the Senate and get President Barack Obama's signature, but the administration has already come out clearly against it.