CHARLESTON, W.Va. — UPDATE: Senate Majority Leader John Unger (D-Berkeley) introduced SB 373 on Thursday. The legislation, he said, would “start the discussion on closing the loophole” on above-ground storage facilities. “Hopefully, we can expedite this,” said Unger.
As proposed, the bill will amend the Water Resources and Management Act by requiring the registration of existing above-ground storage tanks and directing the secretary of the state Department of Environmental Protection to develop a program to regulate new and existing above-ground storage tanks.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — As thousands of West Virginians wait for their tap water to be cleared for use, a week after they were first told not to use it because a coal processing chemical had spilled into the Elk River, new legislation is already being drafted to prevent similar leaks in the future.
“If such legislation that I’ll be introducing had been in place, this would have been prevented,” said John Unger (D-Berkeley), Senate Majority Leader and co-chair of the Joint Legislative Oversight Commission on State Water Resources, on Wednesday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”
The Unger bill will require existing above-ground chemical storage facilities to be registered and inspected, much like underground storage facilities are currently. Construction facilities for new storage sites, he said, could soon be required to locate away from potential water threats.
“It was a significant problem hiding in plain sight,” said Kent Carper, Kanawha County Commission president, of Freedom Industries, the source site for the crude MCHM, 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, that leaked.
“It was no secret to anyone that that facility was there.”
Unger said early detection requirements, including possible alarms, will also have to be part of any new legislation.
He and other members of the Joint Legislative Oversight Commission on State Water Resources will be conducting a full review of the chemical leak. “(We’ll be) Looking at what happened, how it happened and what we can do to prevent it from ever happening again here in Charleston or anywhere throughout West Virginia,” said Unger.
At the same time, a date is being scheduled for a field hearing in Charleston from members of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Both Third District Congressman Nick Rahall (D-WV) and Second District Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) requested the hearing of Chair Bill Shuster (R-PA) who granted it.
“A purpose of a hearing is to find out what gaps there might be in the regulations or, at least, what protocols weren’t followed,” said Capito. “More work on the front end would have helped us in this case a lot.”
The U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will hold hearings on the Charleston chemical spill in Washington, D.C. in early February.
MetroNews “Talkline,” hosted by Hoppy Kercheval, originated from the State Capitol on Wednesday.