CHARLESTON, W.Va. — With just a few days left in the 2014 Regular Legislative Session, lawmakers in both the Senate and House of Delegates and their staff members are working through the 88 pages of the House’s version of the chemical spill bill.
It’s the legislation that was introduced after the Jan. 9 Freedom Industries leak on the Elk River that contaminated West Virginia American Water Company’s tap water for 300,000 West Virginians in parts of nine counties.
“We’re going to digest what they’ve done, do a side by side (analysis), their staff, our staff will look at how they interrelate, get an explanation of what they did and reach some consensus,” said Senate President Jeff Kessler (D-Marshall, 2) of the bill on Thursday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”
On Wednesday night, the House of Delegates approved SB 373, a comprehensive bill addressing regulations for above ground storage tanks along with water resource protections, with a 95-0 vote. It’s a much different bill, though, than what the Senate unanimously approved earlier this session.
The proposed bill includes a new set of regulations requiring the state Department of Environmental Protection to license and inspect above ground storage tanks, like the one that leaked crude MCHM and PPH along the Elk River, the source water for WVAW.
“The piece that DEP is concerned about, that is the authority to regulate above ground storage tanks, which this does much more than that, but, yes, the DEP has what it needs to ensure we can prevent these kinds of incidents in the future,” said Randy Huffman, DEP secretary.
Some key aspects of the proposal include the following:
–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 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.
Huffman said he is concerned about House exemptions, within the bill, that would lift the registration and permitting fee requirements in some cases.
Overall, though, Huffman said the legislation will let DEP develop a rule for regulation individual tanks, tank farms and secondary containments.
“I’m pleased that we’re going to be able to have a good program in place,” said Huffman. “It’s going to take a little bit of time, but we’re going to have a good program in place.”
The House amendments to the bill include a requirement that the state Bureau of Public Health gather and store medical information on people exposed to the chemical to determine potential long term health effects.
Additionally, the House bill would mandate WVAW install an early monitoring system at its Elk River plant. If such technology is not feasible, the company would have to report back to the Legislature by Jan. 2015 with an explanation.
“It’s equipment that’s readily available,” said Del. Patrick Lane (R-Kanawha, 38). “West Virginia American Water actually already uses it in their facility in Huntington.”
Del. Meshea Poore (D-Kanawha, 37) said she sees the bill as a starting point. “I think it gets what we need to get done done. We’ve tried to address as many issues as we possibly can in the timeframe that we have with the information that we’ve been provided.”
She said lawmakers could revisit the legislation each session and Senate President Kessler agreed. “You can’t always legislate every unforseen circumstance. There’s always unintended consequences and that’s why we come back next year,” he said.