Legislators look at rule waiver for pit operation

A Western Slope lawmaker who voted in favor of strengthening environmental and public health regulations for commercial wastewater is open to granting an exemption from the strict rules for a Moffat County outfit.

State Sen. Al White, R-Hayden, said he is working with Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, to exempt Craig businessman Ed Counts’ wastewater operation, the Four Mile Creek Recycling Facility, from portions of the widely supported state regulations.

“He’ll lose his entire investment if he’s forced to comply with the new rules,” White said.

During the 2008 legislative session, Penry and then-Rep. Bernie Buescher, D-Grand Junction, passed legislation that called for stricter regulation of independent wastewater pits, which energy operators use to dispose of water produced during drilling.

The new wastewater pit rules went into effect in December, including a regulation requiring facilities to install synthetic liners.

Counts said the liner rule unfairly burdens facilities such as his that have not had the issues of other problematic sites, such as the Black Mountain Disposal facility near De Beque.

“That’s not a bad thing if you’re going out and building a new facility. That’s totally possible and not a problem,” Counts said. “However, if you have an existing facility … you’re out of business.”

Counts said the state’s new regulations already have pushed energy companies to go to Wyoming and Utah to get rid of their wastewater.

He said lawmakers should have asked local governments and not the state to deal with problematic pits.

The Mesa County Commission suspended the conditional-use permit for the Black Mountain facility in October, forcing it to close.

Penry said he has spoken with White about Counts’ situation and that there might be room to grandfather in operators who have not had serious leaks or threatened the environment or public health.

Nonetheless, what he is willing to work on depends on how sweeping an exemption White and Counts want, Penry said.

“The fundamentals of what we tried to accomplish last year was good public policy,” he said.

White said even if Penry and his peers get behind a grandfather clause, a lawsuit Counts recently has filed concerning the rules could derail his request for a waiver.

“That tends to muddy the water a little bit,” White said. “I’ve seen it happen before. … The Legislature will let the courts work it out.”


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