CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The House of Delegates Judiciary Committee began Wednesday morning what’s expected to be several hours of work on the bill connected with the Jan. 9 chemical spill on the Elk River in Charleston and resulting nine-county water emergency.
The measure, which sets up a regulatory program for above ground storage tanks, passed the state Senate earlier this session. The House has now less than 10 days to pass and come to agreement on any differences with the Senate.
The judiciary committee heard from Evan Hansen, president of Downstream Strategies, Wednesday morning. Hansen’s company has tested homes for the chemical MCHM since the spill and has been part of a report on other potential hazards upstream on the Elk River.
Hansen told committee members having a program in place, as the bill suggests dealing the potential hazards near water sources, could have resulted in West Virginia American Water Company making another decision about its water intake than it did Jan. 9.
“They could have shut the intake,” Hansen said. “Instead of polluting the entire distribution system, which is what happened, they could have immediately shut the intake.”
Not much was known about MCHM Jan. 9 and WVAWC initially thought its Kanawha Valley Plant could handle the chemical that had spilled from the Freedom Industries site but a few hours after the spill the system became overloaded and the Do Not Use order was given.
The Senate version of the bill included dozens of exclusions for above ground storage facilities but Hansen recommended to the judiciary committee Wednesday the exclusions be taken out of the bill.
“Because the session is ending soon and we need to take action sooner than later—remove the exclusions for now,” Hansen said they could be studied for the next year through the rule-making process. “Remove the exclusions from the act and let the DEP handle it.”
Del. Meshea Poore, D-Kanawha, expressed concern the above ground storage issue has been joined with the water resources protection issue in the legislation.
“This is a lot of information for this body to take up and I even would challenge that we would probably be responsible to the public if we did a special session, at least a week of special session, to address the real issues in this bill,” Poore said.
The judiciary committee was scheduled to continue its meeting Wednesday afternoon following its floor session.