CHARLESTON, W.Va.– Legislation designed to respond to January’s chemical leak and water emergency passed the House of Delegates Wednesday night 95-0 and was sent to the Senate. Delegates made significant changes to SB 373, which passed the Senate earlier in the session, meaning the two chambers have to work out the differences before adjournment Saturday night at midnight.
House members worked into the night Wednesday to move the comprehensive 88-page bill. The legislation is aimed at preventing another spill like the one at Freedom Industries Jan. 9 that contaminated the water distributed by West Virginia American Water Company to 300,000 customers in a nine-county region.
“We have been faithful to our commitment that this will never happen again,” House Minority Leader Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, said.
He added the bill accomplishes two things his friends and neighbors are most concerned about–“We need to know what’s in these tanks and that these tanks are inspected,” Armstead said.
The legislation includes a new set of regulations requiring the state Division of Environmental Protection to license and inspect above ground storage tanks, like the one that leaked into the Elk River.
Delegates debated and voted on a series of amendments.
–The House passed an amendment 83-13 requiring the state Bureau of Public Health to gather and store medical information on people exposed to the chemical to determine potential long term health effects.
–Delegates also approved an amendment requiring WVAWC install an early monitoring system at its Elk River plant. The provision says if the technology is not feasible, WVAWC must report to legislature Jan. 2015 and list the reasons why.
“Personally this has been a changing experience,” Del. Meshea Poore, D-Kanawha, said. “I became a distribution center for constituents. I became an activist for town hall meetings.”
Other key aspects of the bill include:
–A requirement that water utilities that use surface water identify potential sources of contamination that are near the water intake valve. These areas are identified as “zones of critical concern.” These zones are defined as an area within 1,000 feet of the waterway and within a five-hour flow of the intake.
–A requirement that all above ground storage tanks are registered with the state Division of Environmental Protection. Tanks closest to water intakes would be subject to annual inspections by the DEP. The inspections of tanks outside the “zones of critical concern” can be done by independent engineers.
–Implementation of fees for registration and permitting that will be used by the DEP to pay for its inspection program and clean-up in the event of a leak.
–A requirement that DEP determine which above ground storage tanks are already regulated by another agency and therefore would not be subject to a duplicate review.
–A requirement that by July 2015, all water utilities have a source water protection plan in place in case there is a spill that could contaminate the water supply.