CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The chairman of the state Public Service Commission said Monday the PSC is looking to make reasonable decisions in a dispute centered on the agency’s general investigation into how West Virginia American Water Company responded to the Jan. 9 chemical leak and resulting water emergency.
Chairman Mike Albert said he’s not surprised the water company has looked to narrow discovery while those on the opposite side want to broaden it. Albert said the commission is looking to make a balanced decision trying to determine ” what properly discoverable and requested information is available and whether, under the circumstances, is it reasonable to make it available under discovery for the other parties.”
The spill of crude MCHM from Freedom Industries happened on the Elk River in Charleston just upstream from the company’s Kanawha Valley Plant. A Do Not Use water order was put in effect following the spill. The order impacted approximately 300,000 in parts of nine counties. The PSC ordered the general investigation in May.
WVAWC has said its planning efforts and prior decisions about the Kanawha Valley Water Treatment Plant should not be part of the investigation if the goal is to find out the response to the spill, but Consumer Advocate attorney Tom White told the PSC Monday the main issue is “planning information.”
White has previously said if WVAWC didn’t plan for a possible chemical spill upstream it was nothing more than corporate risk-taking and its shareholders should bear that burden not its customers who may be faced with a rate hike because of the cost of the water emergency. White said if the PSC is going to limit discovery about planning then it should not allow testimony on the subject during any future rate hearings.
Albert indicated during Monday’s hearing the commission has no rate case before it but a general investigation case and the commission would likely have some limits on discovery.
“We are not willing to accept the proposition for discovery that every step that the water company and its predecessors have taken over the years in terms of construction, certification, plant location, water treatment or raw water sources should be subject to prudence review in light of the spill,” Albert said.
The chairman later added not all planning should be off the table however.
WVAWC has said some of its planning information has to be kept secret under anti-terrorism laws.
Albert said the PSC would announce its decisions by Friday.