Opinion

Timing bad for Legislature’s ‘scaled back’ tank law

An editorial from The Dominion Post 

MORGANTOWN — It was broken and the Legislature fixed it.

Then, once it was actually working, the Legislature “fixed it” again.

Now it appears lawmakers should have quit fixing it when they were ahead.

In January 2014, a chemical spill contaminated the drinking water for 300,000 people, including 134 state legislators who just happened to be in session near ground zero at the time.

For four to 10 days, clean tap water was unavailable in the kitchens and bathrooms of a nine-county region, including those at the state Capitol complex.

As a result of the public outcry and the sponge baths that legislators were reduced to, they passed a comprehensive law to regulate above-ground storage tanks.

That law mandated stepped-up surveillance and inspections of nearly 50,000 tanks across the state.

From the very start, the law was working. A statewide survey soon tallied up the tanks and, employing  brief inspection summaries, quickly identified those that posed a threat to drinking water.

It found some 1,500 tanks were not even safe enough to store any chemicals, let alone the hazardous variety.

About 50 of those tanks did hold dangerous chemicals and sat near enough to water supplies to pose a serious threat to the drinking water of 134,000 people.

To their credit, many companies where shoddy tanks were located wasted no time in performing inspections, draining tanks and improving containment measures or taking some out of service for repairs.

Of that initial inventory, the majority of tank owners also submitted inspection reports at the beginning of this year.

Then, wouldn’t you know it, once the Legislature convened in January, it scaled back this law at the behest of special interests —mostly the oil and gas industry.

“Scaled back” is probably an overly generous use of that phrase, seeing as lawmakers exempted about 75 percent of the tanks —36,000 of them —that were initially regulated from any inspections.

Presumably, even more of the remaining 13,000 tanks may also be dropped from the program’s oversight if it’s determined they are already “adequately ” regulated under other laws.

So there you have it: A far fewer number of above-ground storage tanks will need to be inspected and the inspections that are required will be done less often.

When industry and so many political leaders work overtime to put black hats on regulators and environmentalists, it’s easy to say they go too far.

But as the director of the state’s above-ground storage tank program recently put it, “I do not believe we would’ve gotten this information had the law not passed (initially).”

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