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Delegates hear pros and cons of tank bill changes

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Many who stepped to the podium in the House of Delegates Chamber in Charleston Friday had been there before.   A number of speakers at a public hearing sought to kill legislation which would rollback last year’s Above Ground Storage Tank Act which was hastily crafted and approved following the spill at Freedom Industries.  Most were at the same podium a year ago advocating for the act.

“Do you even remember what it was like this time last year?” asked speaker Tim Sayre rhetorically of the members of the House Judiciary Committee. “I was scared to death to eat out anywhere or even wash my hands when I went to Charleston.  I had a friend who lost a baby around this time and another who was still suffering rashes and burning in his eyes when he showered.”

Betty Rivard lives in Braxton County but maintained an apartment in Charleston where she says she still cannot use the water coming from her tap.

“The water made me sick and it still does,” Rivard told the committee. “It still seems like nobody cares.”

Those opposed to the measure were angered lawmakers sought to rollback protections in the original legislation, although supporters said that was not the case.

“The bill maintains many components of Senate Bill 373 while providing a greater focus on tanks which present the most risk to drinking water,” said Timothy Byrd, plant manager of the Dupont Plant in Belle, W.Va. “In addition Senate Bill 423 provides an efficient means for regulated industry to incorporate West Virginia’s newly develop tank standards into existing plans and permits.”

The bill would narrow the scope of the DEP’s focus on storage tanks.  There would be two tiers, those in zones of critical concern or within five hours water travel time from a public water intake and those in zones of peripheral concern which are within ten hours water travel time from public water intakes.  Additionally tanks outside those zones which store more than 50,000 gallons of liquids or those containing any quantity of hazardous chemicals would also be subject to the regulation.

Speaker Sherry Tulk questioned the math which was use to determine the parameters of those two zones.

“If you know for a fact it’s going to be stringent enough to insure that contamination could not happen,” said Tulk. “I would add that if it is, how is it Freedom Industry tanks that contaminated the water a year ago are not included in those areas of concern.”

The bill passed the state Senate on a vote of 33-1.   The vote didn’t impress people like Rivard.

“The three Democrats who represent my district are all leading the charge to protect oil and gas instead of protecting my neighbors and me,” she said. “I can’t understand why they think that’s okay. It’s not what I voted for them to do and I don’t believe my neighbors would support that either.”

One speaker, Jeff Isner the CEO of Pillar Energy, had a unique perspective.  The bill would benefit Isner’s business but he lives three miles from the spill site and his wife gave birth to their son during last year’s water emergency.

“It was a tough time for our family.  As a consumer I understand the importance of protecting our water.  We couldn’t give him a bath for roughly a month after he was born,” Isner told members of the committee. “But as the owner of Pillar Energy, the regulations that were passed last year to oil and gas operators in this state make it difficult for us to comply and pay our bills.”

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