CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Senate Majority Leader John Unger (D-Berkeley) said he sees clear differences between Governor Earl Ray Tomblin’s proposed bill that’s designed to better protect water resources in West Virginia and the bill the Senate is considering that’s meant to do the same.
Unger said the Senate bill, which was introduced last week and was pending in the Senate Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday, takes a broad approach to regulations for chemical storage facilities, those similar to the site of the Jan. 9 chemical leak on the Elk River that fouled the water supply for more than 300,000 West Virginia American Water customers.
“If you have an above ground storage facility of liquids, then you need to register and have regular inspections,” Unger explained.
“It doesn’t matter where you are in West Virginia. It doesn’t matter what you have in that facility,” he said of the new requirements that, as the Senate is proposing, would apply to locations that do not already fall under state inspection regulations.
In Governor Earl Ray Tomblin’s proposed West Virginia Source Protection Act, which he detailed at the State Capitol on Monday, only those storing chemicals in areas categorized as being zones of “critical concern,” including locations upstream from water intakes, would be subjected to registration requirements and annual inspections.
Randy Huffman, secretary of the state Department of Environmental Protection, said he supports Governor Tomblin’s proposal because of those focus areas.
“It doesn’t make sense to me to spend the state’s resources putting forth the same amount of time and effort into a facility that is not likely to cause a problem, even if it were to leak, than it is to focus our time and energy in those zones of critical concern,” said Huffman.
He said he thinks the Tomblin proposal will prevent chemical leaks, like this month’s leak of crude MCHM at Freedom Industries in Charleston.
“The key to this legislation, the key to preventing something like this from happening again, is this certification, done on annual basis, it absolutely would have prevented the situation that happened last week,” said Huffman.
But, Unger said, he thinks the Senate bill, SB 373, would be more effective since, he claimed, it places the importance of water ahead of the importance of industry. “It’s a fundamental policy decision that we have. Should every facility that’s holding some type of liquid be registered and inspected or should we cherry pick and spot check?”
“Everybody wants their water protected in West Virginia and we just have to have the public debate,” Unger said on Tuesday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”
The 2014 Regular Legislative Session continues through Saturday, March 8.