The first round of lobbying related to legislation aimed at protecting West Virginia’s water supplies took place early in the year when the state’s lawmakers were considering bills in the wake of the Jan. 9 chemical spill into the Elk River.
Now, the second round has begun, only this time it is directed at the agency largely responsible for implementing that legislation, the Department of Environmental Protection.
Let’s hope officials at that agency retain the sense of urgency felt immediately following the chemical leak and not succumb to any pressure that will end up weakening the legislation’s intent.
Senate Bill 373, approved by lawmakers and signed by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin in March, came into being after 7,500 gallons or more of coal-cleaning chemicals leaked from above-ground storage tanks at Freedom Industries in Charleston.
Officials discovered in the wake of the spill that many above-ground storage tanks are subject to minimal regulation and inspection, and lawmakers scrambled to devise a law that would provide oversight. Some of the original proposals raised eyebrows because they contained numerous provisions exempting a variety of tanks from stricter oversight. However, most of those exemptions were subsequently removed.
The law provides an overall structure for new inspections, registrations, inventories and other regulations on aboveground tanks, with the strictest rules applying to tanks near water supplies. The law also requires water utilities to devise plans for protecting public water systems.
The Department of Environmental Protection is now tasked with developing the specific rules regarding inspections, fees, monitoring, reporting and containment walls. It’s asking for public comment from the public, including those industries that would presumably fall under the new regulations.
Not surprisingly, industry and business groups are working to steer the rules toward serving their interests, urging the DEP to slow down on registration and inspection requirements and permitting standards for tanks.
While their concerns certainly should be taken into account, the purpose of the law is to protect water supplies from potential contamination from facilities that largely have been unregulated. In devising how the law will be implemented, the DEP should not waver from that intent. If the agency carries out its mission successfully, the odds of another chemical spill occurring like the one at Freedom Industries should be greatly reduced.
The Herald-Dispatch, Huntington