WASHINGTON, D.C. – West Virginia’s water crisis took center stage on Capitol Hill Tuesday. The U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Water and Wildlife got the details about the MCHM spill that happened at Freedom Industries.

U.S. Senate

A large crowd gathered at the U.S. Capitol Tuesday for the committee hearing on the West Virginia water emergency.

Senators Barbara Boxer, (D) CA, Tom Udall, (D) NM and David Vitter, (R) LA listened and asked questions during the two-hour hearing. It was focused on the Chemical Safety and Drinking Water Protection Act crafted by Boxer and U.S. Senators Joe Manchin and Jay Rockefeller. It’s aimed at protecting Americans from chemical spills like the one in West Virginia January 9 that contaminated the drinking water of 300,000 West Virginians in parts of nine counties.

(See archive of Senate hearing here)

Second District Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito vented her frustration to the committee.

“I’m a mother. I’m a grandmother. I live in the Kanawha Valley. I understand the fear, trepidation and anger the people feel because I feel it too,” Capito said. “We’ve got to get to the bottom of this where people are trusting that their tap water is safe and it won’t happen again.”

Capito along with Third District Congressman Nick Rahall and U.S. Senators Jay Rockefeller and Manchin all spoke before the committee.

West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant also testified. Her comments focused on the impact on businesses and residents.

“Our confidence has been shattered. I received a letter from a father whose wife is pregnant. This is supposed to be a joyful time. It’s now turned into a fearful time for them,” said Tennant.

Sen. Boxer made it known she felt strongly the bill needs to move forward in the Senate and the House.

“If a chemical is stored by a drinking water supply and could get into the water I think we should prioritize it.”

However, Richard Faulk, a Washington, D.C. lawyer, spoke out against moving too quickly on the proposed bill.

“Should we really rush immediately into federal legislation? I think we should be cautious,” he explained. “Complex accidents generate a fog simply burdened by the sheer weight of information mixed with all the shock and alarm and confusion sometimes that can obscure clear deliberations.”

The committee members agreed nothing should be rushed but there is a need for action. Sen. Boxer posed this question to Brent Fewell, Vice President of Environmental Compliance for United Water, the organization that oversees tens of thousands of above ground tanks across the country.

“Do you have any clue as to how many above ground storage tanks with chemicals in them? How many of those are located along water supplies?”

Fewell’s responded, “I don’t know the number.”

Boxer said that’s reason enough to move forward with the bill and she came down hard on Freedom Industries, blaming the company for the water crisis.

“You’ve got a rogue operator like this who absolutely is…they’re cowards,” she stated. “And running away and leaving the people is an outrage! An absolute outrage!”

Sen. Udall said West Virginians shouldn’t have to live in fear.

“Our hearts go out to the citizens of West Virginia who have suffered enormous anxiety for weeks now in the face of uncertainties about the risk posed by contact with MCHM.”

Udall stressed this is a wake-up call for the rest of the country and Congress that something must be done to prevent another chemical spill from contaminating a major water supply.

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Comments

  • LaRon Pepper

    As a single parent living through this mess I must stress its not over just today children were sent home from schools because of the return to tap water simply washing dishes in preparation for lunch filled the buildings with fumes making children sick I'm appalled and shaken to my core that people must go through this with all the lost pay and money spent on bottled water plus gas spent to find water the families that suffered should recieve compensation

  • Kelley Wilber

    There are on-line monitors that can detect chemical spills that should be downstream of any industrial facility to notify the utility or on the intake of the water utilities water supply. This will prevent hazardous chemicals from entering our drinking water supply. The utility will be notified when their VOC levels are above normal and can take appropriate actions. Legislation on chemical storage tanks near water supplies will never work, I've worked in industry, I know what goes on. Visit seven-seventeen.net for more information on protecting drinking water.

  • Kelly

    Of course the Fracking industry is exempt from SB 373, because the politicians are financially benefiting from it. That's why WVDEP refuses to enforce the current fracking regulations.

    WVDEP continues to ignore the toxic chemical leak in Lochgelly WV caused by the fracking industry.

    The USGS confirmed that Wolf Creek is contaminated with Fracking chemicals but the WVDEP could care less about the people in Fayette County WV.

    See for yourself:

    www.DirtySecretWater.com

  • jay ziehm

    I wonder if this issue happened in Mr. Faulks backyard would he be singing the same tune. also a comment on your show yesterday Hoppy was this wouldn't be a priority issue in D.C. at this time. But they would probably take up a bill for a bridge being named after some worthless Congressman or senator. the country needs to thin out these useless jerks and start over come the next election when they run for respective 0ffice or any other one.

  • Jason412

    Can someone who better understands legislation tell me if this part of SB 373 exempts the Greenhunter fracking waste water facility planned in Wheeling? The way it reads to me it will be exempt, leaving it completely unregulated.

    (18) Aboveground storage tanks used in connection with oil and gas exploration, production, processing, gathering, treatment or storage operations or transmission facilities that are addressed in spill prevention, control, and countermeasure plans meeting the federal regulations set out in 40 C. F. R. Part 112;

    • Aaron

      How would the facility be completely unregulated? If you read the proposed bill, it addresses tanks otherwise regulated under provisions of this chapter in 22-30-3, subsection (16) which states;
      (16) Tanks otherwise regulated under those provisions of this chapter that necessitate individual site-specific permits that require appropriate containment and diversionary structures or equipment to prevent discharged materials from reaching the waters of the state, including:
      (A) Tanks on sites regulated under the Surface Coal Mining and Reclamation Act, article three of this chapter;
      (B) Tanks that are used to store brines, crude oil or any other liquid or similar substances or materials that are directly related to the exploration, development, stimulation, completion or production of crude oil or natural gas regulated under article six or article six-a of this chapter;
      (C) Tanks that are located at establishments that have individual permits issued under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, article eleven of this chapter; and
      (D) Tanks regulated under the Solid Waste Management Act, article fifteen of this chapter, including, but not limited to, piping, tanks, collection and treatment systems used for leachate, methane gas and methane gas condensate management;

      If the tank is not regulated there, then it is regulated under the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 40, Protection of the Environment, Chapter 1, Environmental Protection Agency, subchapter D water programs, part 112, oil prevention, Subpart A—Applicability, Definitions, and General Requirements for All Facilities and All Types of Oils. If you read the code, it deals with all petroleum products which include natural gas. Do you seriously think any storage tank, above or below ground, will be exempt from all regulations?

      • Jason412

        " Do you seriously think any storage tank, above or below ground, will be exempt from all regulations?"

        You mean like Freedom Industries? Only having a run off permit is pretty much completely unregulated.

        • Aaron

          That's not true. Freedom Industries was regulated by Federal and State OSHA laws and WV DEP regulations regarding containment dikes. Were they not regulated then the state would have had no recourse of which to punish Freedom for the leak beyond violation of the Clean Water Act, which by the way is another federal regulation.

          The problem at Freedom was not a lack of regulations as has been so erroneously reported by so many; it is that those regulations did not require periodic inspections by governing agencies. The only people who continue to state that regulations could have prevented this spill are either politically motivated of gain in some other manner, are naive or just do not know what they are talking about.

          Regarding periodic inspections, I hate to be the one to break it to you Jason but the vast majority of industry is in the same boat as Freedom in that very few operations require government periodic inspections. If you read the DEP, OSHA, MSHA or other regulating agency publications, you will see that by and large, inspections are not required unless or except specific conditions or circumstances exist that stipulate such an inspection. One of those conditions is a spill. That’s why there is a spill containment regulation.

          Anything else?

          • Aaron

            First son, as to NY, I pointed out that on the subject of New York, their government has come out in opposition to drilling in the Marcella Shale. That is factual which can be easily verified by a simple Google search. What you will find is information like this recent article in which it states New York “State Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens told legislators Wednesday that he has “absolutely no” plans to issue permits to drilling companies in 2014, clearing the way for Gov. Cuomo to run for reelection without having to deal with the controversial issue.”

            http://www.nyc.gov/html/dep/html/news/natural_gas_drilling_news.shtml

            That is but one of hundreds of examples in which New York government agencies and officials have publicly opposed drilling, hence there will be no permits for another 5 years at the earliest. If that does not prove NY as an unreliable source, I don't know what will.

            As to you claims about West Virginia protecting industry, about all I can say to that is the claim remains unsubstantiated. If you have evidence that supports your claims, perhaps you should direct them to the nearest US Attorney. I am quite sure they would be interested.

            As for teaching you anything, I know that is not possible because you refuse to learn. I have read your post on this subject. You want to preach your biased agenda with inaccurate statements supported by sources that do not support you claims. When one disagrees with you, you respond by trying to overload them with BS as anyone who has read stories on natural gas or fracking can attest. I called you on your childish games and stated my belief that your posts are not credible and you responded then as you have here, in a b****y manner.

            If you want to have an intelligent conversation then by all means, let us have an intelligent conversation but if you want to act like Paris Hilton, take it somewhere else.

          • Jason412

            Don't bother replying to that as I have no interest in reading another post from you acting like you're teaching me something. Oh really is the Clean Water act a federal regulation? Oh really do most industries not have frequent periodic inspections? So informative!

            I wasn't even going to respond to that condescending BS but I couldn't help but to point out your obvious double standard.

          • Jason412

            In all fairness, the state of WV has been protecting industry for decades. As the governor has taken a clear stance in protecting industry utilizing the WV DEP as a source of information is questionable at best.

            Didn't you say something almost just like that to me about the NY DEP?

    • The bookman

      http://www.epa.gov/OEM/docs/oil/fss/fss04/politte_04.pdf

      Above is the link to the regulation regarding tanks exempted under 18. If they are exempt under 18, then they would be regulated by this federal regulation, not unregulated as was your concern .

      • Jason412

        Bookman,

        That link seems to be pertaining only to oil as far as I can tell. I know gas is often coupled with oil, but always as "Oil and Gas" not just "Oil", I'm not seeing the word "gas" in that pdf at all

        The Wheeling press had reported in late December it would not be regulated by State or Federal regulations. As we had previously discussed, I expected the tank bill (SB 373) to regulate it. Until I read the bill this morning I was under the impression it would. Now I am a bit more concerned this facility will either have half-assed or no regulation at all.

        • The bookman

          Any tank exempted under rule 18 would otherwise be regulated by the code referenced. If it isn't regulated by that code then it wouldn't be exempt. Sounds like attorney talk, because, well it is!

          • Aaron

            I see your problem Jason. You state that agencies are saying they are not responsible for regulating the site but that's not true. The concern is that they are not monitored. From your story.

            "The problem local officials have is that no state or federal agency appears to be in charge of monitoring liquid storage facilities such as GreenHunter - the same issue those in Charleston have found with Freedom Industries."

            Oversight is completely different than regulations. There is a difference.

          • The bookman

            It reads they are ONLY exempt if they are covered by the EPA Code I referenced from the rule. If they aren't already covered by that EPA Code, then they WOULD NOT be exempt by rule 18.

          • Jason412

            That gave me no peace of mind at all. Aaron is talking about it being otherwise regulated, thus that's why it's exempt.

            The EPA and DEP have already clearly stated they have no involvement at all so where are these other regulations?

            " The reporter could still be correct in that the SB 373is still pending before this legislature, "

            But is rule 18 not saying it will be exempt from SB373? It reads to me as if Rule 18 is 3 different categories because of the word "OR"

            Aboveground storage tanks used in connection with oil and gas exploration "OR" storage operations "OR" transmission facilities that are addressed in spill prevention, control, and countermeasure plans


            I don't know I think I'm confusing myself more. It's a question I'd like a concrete answer to from someone involved with the legislation

          • The bookman

            And as Aaron stipulates on the following post, it would be covered under SB 373 if it isn't exempted by rule 18. The purpose of the exemption in rule 18 is to remove state regulation where federal regulation is already occurring. The reporter could still be correct in that the SB 373is still pending before this legislature, so it would not be regulated. Either way, it will or already would be regulated.

            Read Aaron's post for peace of mind.

          • Jason412

            Bookman,

            Thanks. But I'm still not clear as to why they're reporting it's not federally regulated, even mentioning the EPA specifically not being involved. As I posted the other day this is what I'm going by

            "The problem local officials have is that no state or federal agency appears to be in charge of monitoring liquid storage facilities such as GreenHunter - the same issue those in Charleston have found with Freedom Industries.

            Oversight for above-ground liquid storage facilities

            One thing that's been learned since the Freedom Industries spill is what's known as "chemical storage facilities" have little to no oversight from either the state or federal government. GreenHunter Water likely would fall into this category, as no chemical production or manufacturing would take place through their process.

            The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency doesn't regulate aboveground chemical storage for many industries, and the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection has said they would only regulate the facility if it drilled into the earth or discharged a pollutant into the air or the Ohio River."
            http://www.theintelligencer.net/page/content.detail/id/594810/GreenHunter-Could-Store-Toxic-Water-Next-to-River.html
            Also, I mispoke, it was from January 19th not the end of December.

            I've emailed the reporter who wrote the article to ask if it was just misinformation but have yet to hear back.

    • The bookman

      It appears as though the exemption listed is granted due to those tanks already being federally regulated. So if it is deemed the tanks at the proposed Warwood site fall in that category, exemption 18, then these regulations would not apply. The Federal regulations would apply.

  • Aaron

    What I would truly be interested in is testimony from 10-12 of the most tenured employees.

  • Independent View

    Correction to previous post: There were just three committee members attending the hearing instead of the previous outrageous number that I cited of four (4). Sorry for the oversight.

  • HOSA

    HERE WE GO 2-4-14. GAZETTE ARTICLE KOCH-CREATED GROUP OPENS UP CHAPTER IN CHARLESTON. WAKE UP WEST VIRGINIANS BEFORE ITS TO LATE.

    • Wowbagger

      a) Stop using all caps and maybe someone will bother to read your posts.

      b) Ms Tennant has received significant funding from George Soros funded groups, particularly the Secretary of State Project that was specifically designed to influence (translate: steal) elections!

  • Wowbagger

    Ole Joe is on the case, but ironically he missed this problem when he was a legislator, when he was Secretary of State, when he was Governor, when he became a Senator, and the last couple of thousand times he drove by all of the tanks along the Elk and the single WV Anerican Water Company intake that serves 300,000 people!

  • Independent View

    A poster asked is this going to be just another dog & pony show. All one has to do is look at the photograph of the hearing chamber. Only four members of the committee bothered to attend the hearing, which was held as a political favor to Rocky and Joe. And, it was political theater at its best!
    Accepting that it was political theater, the question that begs an answer is what in the wild world does the WV Sect'y of State's office have to do with this incident and what in the wide, wide, world was Natalie Tennant doing there? Why, when a tinhorn local politician decides to run for a national office then, suddenly, them become experts on every subject and they believe that everyone is on the edge of their seat waiting for each syllable of their nonsensical utterances! Stay home Ms. Tennant and do the job that you were regretfully elected to do. You Ms. Tennant, are an embarrassment to the intelligent people of WV. Your showboating, hotdogging and political posturing during a very trying time for the folks suffering in the nine affected counties are disgusting!

  • HOSA

    NOW MY SECOND QUESTION IS WHEN THEY WASH THE COAL AT THESE COAL TREATMENT PLANTS WHERE DOES THAT CHEMICAL GO?

    • Jerry D

      In slurry impoundments on mine property that are governed by the rules of the EPA and the DEP.... Now since it is water on "mine property" it must meet very strict environmental laws which requires the water that is eventually released back into the local watershed to be cleaner that bottled water bought in your local store. Don't believe me, then look it up!

      • Hillboy

        I don't believe you. Provide a link that documents your claim.

  • HOSA

    LET'S SEE, WE HAVE ONE OF THE WORST SUPREME COURT DECISIONS IN UNITED STATES HISTORY WHEN THEY RULED THAT BIG COOPERATIONS HAVE THE SAME FIRST ADMENDMENT RIGHTS AS PEOPLE. THIS OPENED UP THE FLOOD GATES FOR UNLIMITED POLITICAL SPENDING SUCH AS THE KOCH BROTHERS, WHOSE NAME HAS COME UP AS BEING INVOLVED IN THIS CHEMICAL SPILL. THEY WANT TO ELIMINATE ALL ENVIORENMENTAL REGULATIONS SO CORPORATION CAN POLLUTE THE ENVIROPMENT FREELY IN THIER QUEST TO GET EVEN RICHER. SO THEY COME HERE AND START A BUSINESS UNDER ANOTHER NAME AND LET SOMEONE ELSE RUN THE BUSINESS UNDER ANOTHER NAME. THEN BIG CORPORATIONS AND THEIR BUSINESS START DONATING TO THE POLITICIANS WITH MONEY CONTRIBUTIONS FOR DOING WHATEVER THEY WANT. THEN THEY SPEND MILLIONS OF MILLIONS DOLLARS ON TV ADS BASHING WHICH EVER POLITICIAN IS AGAINST WHAT THEY WANT. AS USUAL, CORPORATE AMERICA DOES WHATEVER IT WISHES WITH NO RESPONSIBILITY FOR DIASTERS LIKE THIS ONE AND WHEN SOMETHING HAPPENS THEY FILE BANKREUPT AND THEN THEY ARE OFF SCOTT FREE. WEST VIRGINIANS BETTER WAKE UP AND START PAYING ATTENTION TO WHO THEY ARE VOTING FOR AND MAKE SURE THAT THESE PEOPLE HAVE THEIR BEST INTERESTS AT HEART. QUESTION, IF BIG COOPERATIONS HAVE THE SAME FIRST ADMENDMENT RIGHTS AS PEOPLE DO. THEN WHY SHOULDN'T THEY BE HELD LIABLE JUST LIKE WE THE PEOPLE. IF I POISENED SOMEBODY, I WOULD BE PUT UNDER THE JAIL. WHERE'S DEMOCRACY.

    • Aaron

      Do you realize that Dartmouth College v. Woodward in which Chief Justice John Marshall wrote the majority opinion in 1819 was the case that birthed corporate personahood Hosa?

      • The bookman

        What was that? Couldn't hear you. Maybe you should try ALL CAPS!

  • SeekingOut

    I am following this medium for the first time but was wondering about the WV perspective on this issue. I must say that what I am seeing here is not very illuminating. Why is the main topic of conversation about Ms. Tennant and political cynicism?

    What about the fundamental matters involved here - appropriate regulations and enforcement or lack thereof, irresponsibility of a private sector player, rehabilitation and remedial action, etc.,etc.?

    • The bookman

      This event occurred nearly a month ago, and countless stories have been written on this issue. Ask Jim N Some City In North America if this is not the case(inside joke)! Many here have called for clarification and/or consolidation of the regulations regarding these tanks at the federal level. The EPA has really not been involved to date, although I understand they were at the Capitol today.

      When parsing the story it became readily apparent to most of us that this hearing was about political grandstanding, Shelley Capito included. But at least she is a member of Congress and may have some legislative duty at some point regarding any proposed regulation at the Federal level. But Natalie Tennant? The Secretary of State? What purpose did she serve in that hearing? Now if we needed state representation from a non congressional member, how about Randy Huffman at the DEP?

      We can't help the fact the politicians made the story about themselves.

      • hillboy

        Actually, the Secretary of State is in charge of maintaining the state code of regulations. So, Natalie Tennant should have been able to play a useful role in clarifying what the existing state rules were regarding storage tanks. I didn't hear or read her statement so I have no idea whether she did or not.

        • The bookman

          According to the story and sound byte she reflected the impact of the crisis on families and business. Anecdotal at best, FaceTime and grandstanding at its finest. In all fairness, Capito was doing the same. But at least she works in Washington, and the rest of the delegation was present. So what say you given that info? Valid for her to be there still? Or campaigning?

          • Hillboy

            Unfortunately, I haven't seen much evidence in the past that she has anything substantial to contribute in general. So, if all she provided was platitudes it doesn't surprise me.

      • Mike

        Have to agree on that one. How many regular residents of the Kanawha Valley were asked to testify before the committee about the true experiences during this crisis? Real people and the real problems it created. Probably not one.

    • Aaron

      Contrary to what the above poster states SeekingOut, there was no lax regulation in hopes of maintaining employment. Regulations applied to those storage tanks but due to the fact that it was a storage only facility, it did not require the same inspections that the manufacturing facility must adhere to.

      The problem arose because the owner of the facility failed to ensure the properly installed containment walls surrounding the tanks was working.

      The also fail to mention that the storage tanks were at the site decades before the water plant and that the contents of the tanks were made known to government officials. They also fail to tell you that the there are at least 47 other sites that can potentially damage the water supply as well.

      The problem is there are those involved in the argument that distort the truth and will utilize this tragedy for personal and/or political gain instead of addressing the issues.

      I'm not stating that Secretary of State Natalie Tennant is one of those people but her presence at this hearing does seem suspicious given the responsibilities of the office.

      Does that answer your questions?

      • hillboy

        Aaron, I disagree. It wasn't that there was lax regulation, there was no regulation. Here is a link to the existing state guidelines for above ground storage tanks.

        http://www.dep.wv.gov/WWE/Programs/gw/Documents/AST%20Guidance%20Document.pdf

        Guidelines are recommendations. Regulations are enforceable, guidelines are not. If you read through these you will see that the word "should" is used but not the word "must." There are no penalties for ignoring guidelines.

    • Cincinnatus

      SeekingOut: it's a continuation of our long standing exploitation coupled with irresponsibility and nonaccountibility on the part of vested interests; we are so job-starved that state government, when necessary, softens regulation in hopes of maintaining employment for a handful. The 300,000 innocent victims in a nine-county region who need and deserve safe, clean water are viewed by their enablers as "freeloaders" and those who take such interests to task are labeled "libtards".

      When you don't like the message, then attack the messenger.

      A tour around this website will tell you that.

  • CaptainQ

    I have to wonder if this hearing will be the usual "dog and pony" show and then be long forgotten when the spotlight fades.

    That's the normal way things are run in Washington.....

  • Tim hanley

    If a chemical is stored ANYWHERE it should be prioritized. Chemicals should NOT be stored near any water supply unless special precautions are taken.

    • Wowbagger

      Dude,

      Water is a chemical!

    • Aaron

      Should water supplies be placed near chemical sites without special precautions?