Water group pushes back against tank bills

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Bills pending in both the House Judiciary Committee and Senate Judiciary Committee would exempt thousands of aboveground storage tanks in West Virginia from regulations — cutting back oversight to just 90 tanks statewide, according to analysis from Downstream Strategies and the West Virginia Rivers Coalition.

Angie Rosser, executive director of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition, said she believes the Legislature’s proposals, excluding an estimated 99.8 percent of tanks, is a betrayal of the 2014 Aboveground Storage Act which promised water supply protection.

All tanks outside of a “zones of critical concern” would be excluded, leaving out 21,264 tanks located within 1,000 feet of a river or stream, according to Downstream Strategies. Rosser said, even without a “zone of critical concern,” there could be a threat.

“We saw this in Lewisburg just the other week. The tanker truck that spilled wasn’t just a tank, but it was a truck and it spilled outside of a ‘zone of critical concern’ and yet still closed down that water supply for several days,” said Rosser.

Some of the tanks that are nearest to water supplies could be exempt from additional regulation, but the Coalition said their concern with the bill is that brine, for example, contains more than just water and salt.

“They provide a blanket exemption for all oil and gas tanks, so even oil and gas tanks that are holding harmful substances within a ‘zone of critical concern’ would be left out of the regulation,” said Rosser on Tuesday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”

The Coalition is interested in a “sweet spot” since Rosser agreed it’s not practical to regulate 50,000 tanks since some are not dangerous for water supplies. She said it’s reasonable to take those tanks that are not threats out, since the state Department of Environmental Protection now has the tanks registered and know the location, the size, and what these tanks hold.

“They have taken a reasonable risk-based approach in their rule making, so what this bill that’s been introduced also ignores is the rule making that DEP has done around the Senate Bill 373,” she said.

Rosser said law, developed last year in the wake of the Freedom Industries chemical spill, took a lot of time and input from industry and citizen groups to get to something where not every tank is treated the same. Those in the “zones of critical concern” are under more scrutiny than those that are away from water supplies that are not containing harmful substances.

“Even outside of a zone, a contaminant could be released and it still is going to affect our water supply and our water security,” she said.

The 2015 Regular Legislative Session continues through March 14.

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