Dozens speak out against changes to tank bill at public hearing organized separate from Legislature

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Members of the state House Health and Human Resources Committee could take up a proposed bill, HB 2598, making changes to the Aboveground Storage Tank Act as soon as next week.

In general, the legislation redefines what an aboveground storage tank is to exempt from regulations specific oil and gas tanks, including those in areas upstream from drinking water intakes in zones of critical concern.

“The Aboveground Storage Tank Act, as it was passed, is a good law. It’s not broken and it doesn’t need fixed,” said Gary Zuckett, executive director of the West Virginia Citizen Action Group.

Gary Zuckett

The Act was passed in the aftermath of the 2014 Freedom Industries chemical spill on the Elk River, the water source for West Virginia American Water’s Kanawha Valley Treatment Plant serving hundreds of thousands of state residents.

On Friday, Zuckett was one of dozens of speakers during an online public hearing several groups organized, billed as the “People’s Public Hearing,” after multiple requests for public hearings in the Legislature were denied.

At one point, more than 70 people were on the Zoom event.

A lot of opposition was voiced from all parts of West Virginia.

“This is what we hoped for and expected,” said Angie Rosser, executive director of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition.

Angie Rosser

“(It) reinforces to our legislators that the public is watching, that we’re concerned about our water and we urge them do the right things for the interests of all West Virginians not just a few tank owners.”

A day earlier on MetroNews “Talkline,” Delegate Bill Anderson (R-Wood), the chair of the House Energy and Manufacturing Committee, which previously advanced the bill, defended his decision to put it on the agenda after not doing so last year.

“I believe it’s an appropriate relaxation to allow these folks some relief so that they can continue in business,” Anderson said.

“As I looked at the record that I’ve secured from the Department of Environmental Protection about any releases they’ve had, they have been minimal at best and no water system in the state has had to be shut down.”

As written, the bill would remove from regulations tanks containing 210 barrels or less of “brine water or other fluids produced in connection with hydrocarbon production activities” in zones of critical concern.

It would affect about 887 tanks, according to Delegate Anderson.

Paul Brewer, one of the participants in the Friday hearing, argued against the erosion of water protections.

He said he’s been with the whitewater industry since 1969.

“I’ve seen millions of people enjoy the clean waters of the New River and the Gauley River. We need to keep the rivers clean, all the rivers — the Kanawha River, every river — clean for the people’s health, but also for tourism,” Brewer said.

Betty Rivard, a citizen advocate, said she got sick twice in 2014 after being exposed to water following the Freedom Industries spill.

“I don’t wish this experience on anyone,” she said. “I’ve seen us develop the laws. I’ve seen them eroded steadily and I think, from hearing the testimony in the Energy Committee, this would be a major step backward.”

On Monday, the House Judiciary Committee will hold a virtual public hearing at 9 a.m. on HB 2389, a separate water quality bill dealing with requirements governing water quality standards.

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