CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A former Republican gubernatorial candidate says state lawmakers should not get “overzealous” with any legislative response to the Jan. 9 chemical leak on the Elk River — a leak of two coal processing chemicals that contaminated tap water for 300,000 West Virginians.
“This is a totally apolitical issue,” said Bill Maloney, president of the Center For A Brighter Future, a Morgantown-based think tank. “We need to fix this because West Virginia is blessed with abundant natural resources. Water is probably our most precious natural resource.”
SB 373, which the Senate unanimously approved, is pending in the House Judiciary Committee with less than two weeks left in the 2014 Regular Legislative Session.
Overall, the bill would regulate above ground storage tanks, like the Freedom Industries’ tank that leaked, by setting up a regulatory framework for such tanks and mandating annual tank inspections. With the bill, water utilities would also have to establish emergency plans to deal with possible future contaminations.
Members of the House Health and Human Resources Committee added a provision that requires every water treatment plant in West Virginia to have either a secondary water intake or at least three days of untreated water in storage.
The House’s version bill also requires the state Department of Environmental Protection to track and record all possible water contaminant within 25 miles of public water sources.
Maloney, a certified water well driller, said lawmakers should look at existing regulations. “There are a lot of good regulations that we worked for, maybe, ten or 15 years in developing for the water well industry in West Virginia,” he said. “It was a give-and-take process, a lot of public input and that’s what needs to happen here.”
Following a forum earlier this month in Morgantown, Maloney’s Center For A Brighter Future released several recommendations for lawmakers in a report titled “Preserving and Protecting Air & Water Natural Resources in West Virginia.” Those recommendations are as follows:
– Review all existing regulations and rules involving air and water. Where duplication exists, eliminate it by combining multiple agencies common functions. Expand budgets and manpower in areas that lack funding for implementation and execution.
– Adopt surface water protection rules and standards similar to those in place for water wells. The current source water protection program is voluntary. Follow a similar process that lead to water well regulation with input form government, industry and public meetings to develop common sense regulation for surface water supplies.
– Study the feasibility of requiring back up water supply plans for larger utilities.
– Look at what other states are doing.
– Do a better job with publicity from natural resource producers on their air and water investments, like treatment of acid mine water and reuse of fracking water.
– Conduct a thorough review of all water supplies and resources, both surface and groundwater, contaminated and not.
– Develop programs to incentivize industry and others to clean up, restore and promote economic development.
– Use technology wherever possible to keep sources of drinking water safe. For example, install equipment at a few remote monitoring points upstream from large public water sources that would shut down a water plant automatically when a spill is detected.
Maloney was a guest on Monday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”
The 2014 Regular Legislative Session ends on Saturday, March 8 in Charleston.