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W.Va. lawmakers pass coal bill aimed at hindering federal water pollution suits

West Virginia lawmakers passed a coal industry-backed bill that may shield miners from some federal lawsuits.

Senate Bill 687 was passed April 8, the final day of the state's legislative session. The bill removes language from West Virginia law that requires the state Department of Environmental Protection to measure compliance with water pollution standards by determining a stream "supports a balanced aquatic community that is diverse in species composition."

The West Virginia Coal Association said that language was being interpreted in federal court cases to include a conductivity measure of stream pollution that was costing the industry millions.

Originally, the bill included much broader changes for coal mining in the state. That version would have largely stripped state mine inspectors of their enforcement authority and instead charged them with compliance assistance for the industry. That version of the bill was pulled shortly after it was introduced.

The legislation also consolidates certain boards related to coal mining and makes other relatively minor changes to mine safety law.

The bill will now be sent to Gov. Jim Justice, owner of a coal company, for his signature or veto.