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W.Va. tank bill leads to farmers’ frustration

Journal photo by Ron Agnir Terry Polen, West Virginia Department of Environment Protection ombudsman, speaks during an informational session about above-ground storage tanks Thursday evening at the Holiday Inn in Martinsburg.
Journal photo by Ron Agnir
Terry Polen, West Virginia Department of Environment Protection ombudsman, speaks during an informational session about above-ground storage tanks Thursday evening at the Holiday Inn in Martinsburg.

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — The frustrations of more than 30 farmers were vented Thursday evening when Terry Polen, Ph.D., ombudsman for the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, conducted an informational session in Martinsburg about Senate Bill 373.

SB373, known as the “Tank Bill,” was passed by the state Legislature this year in response to a chemical leak that contaminated the Elk River in Charleston. The water intake for the about 300,000 water customers in southwestern West Virginia, including state lawmakers, was affected.

Polen gave an quick overview of the new regulations for the Aboveground Storage Tank Program, which was established by SB373, such as registration, certifications, inspections, spill prevention plans and emergency response plans.

While the object of the bill might have been to regulate tanks containing hazardous materials that posed a threat to sources of drinking water, the definition of above-ground storage tanks includes tanks of all sorts, from watering troughs to chemical tanks, Polen explained.

He also said he would take the comments back to the people at the DEP writing the rules to implement the requirements mandated by SB373.

“Under this bill, you would have to file an emergency response plan when your bull (urinates) in the field,” Danny Lutz, a farmer from Jefferson County, said.

Jefferson County farmer Cam Tabb said he has two, 1,500-gallon livestock watering troughs he had to register.

“How am I supposed to do an emergency response plan for two 60-year-old concrete, livestock watering troughs?” he wanted to know.

According to the legislation, above-ground storage tanks of 1,320 gallons or more that are 90 percent above ground level and are in a fixed location for more than 60 days must be registered. There are no exclusions for agricultural uses in the legislation.

The deadline to register tanks was Wednesday. There is an estimated 80,000 tanks that qualify under the criteria set by SB373. As of Thursday, about 46,600 tanks had been registered, according to published reports.

The registration fee has not been set yet. The penalty for not registering a tank is $10,000 per tank per day, according to the legislation.

“None of us were asked to comment before the deadline and that’s wrong -it’s wrong by state code,” Tabb said. “How can you have a penalty in place when it’s against state code to have registration without a set fee? There must be a fee in place if you’re required to register.”

He described the law as the worst he had every seen.

“Some parts are just not right,” Tabb continued. “(Wednesday) was the deadline and then we have hearings and comments. That’s completely backward. How can you have a comment period after the register deadline?”

Polen said he did not have the answers the farmers were looking for.

“I’m going to try to listen – I’m not trying to sell you anything – let me listen to your frustrations and I’ll take your comments back to the people writing the rules,” he repeated several times. “I was in the area for training and I volunteered to set this up to hear what the people of the Eastern Panhandle have to say. (DEP officials) want to do the right thing. They really want to hear what you have to say. The rules can be modified.”

The rules are an interpretive rule and an emergency rule. Drafts of the rules are available for public comment.

Comment on the interpretive rule will be taken through Oct. 9, which is the same day as a public hearing is scheduled at DEP headquarters in Charleston.

Comment on the emergency rule will be accepted through Oct. 24.

There was a stakeholders meeting held in Charleston on Wednesday.

Comments can be emailed to [email protected], using either Interpretive Rule Comments or Emergency Rule Comments as the subject line, or comments can be mailed to West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection – Public Information Office, AST Emergency Rule Comments or AST Interpretive Rule Comments, 601 57th St. SE, Charleston, WV 25304.

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