State lawmakers need to get tank law right

An editorial from The Journal

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — After eight months, the challenges brought to light by the chemical leak that polluted drinking water for 300,000 people in the Charleston area continue.

Last winter, legislators who felt as though they needed to take immediate action during the last regular session hustled through the Water Resource Protection Act, one part of which governs above-ground storage tanks.

Now, officials say there may be 10 times as many such tanks in the state as estimated when the law was passed. According to Cabinet Secretary Randy Huffman of the Department of Environmental Protection, officials believed the law would apply to, maybe, 8,000 tanks.

“We now believe that number is going to push into the 50,000 to 80,000 range,” he told lawmakers this week.

To its credit, the department has already registered about 20,000 of those tanks, but the deadline for all tank registrations is Oct. 1. “The deadlines are coming faster than we can reasonably get the rules put in place,” Huffman said.

Legislators who felt pressured to implement a rush-job law are now faced with the realization there is a great deal of work to be done now to fix it; and the information on which they based some of their decisions was woefully inaccurate.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin is hoping for administrative efforts to address what can be fixed in the law now, and that the Legislature will pick up the ball it dropped during the regular session. Some lawmakers, including state Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, think the governor has gone too far in altering the rules.

Obviously, the governor should avoid a confrontation with the Legislature over the issue of separation of powers.

Clearly, legislators need to take action, either now or during their regular session in January and February, on the tank law.

Information and experience gained by the DEP have pointed to problems with the law.

Though shortcomings were to be expected, given the haste with which the matter was dealt with earlier this year, it is important lawmakers and Tomblin’s administration get it right this time.

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