W.Va. chemical spill legislation might not float

An editorial from The Dominion Post

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The Elk River chemical spill is not water under the bridge, yet.

But, a host of events last week might incline some to think it’s seemingly over and done with.

The Legislature’s regular session ends in 11 days.

The primary legislation that addresses the chemical spill — Senate Bill 373 — sailed through the Senate almost a month ago. Since Jan. 28 it has been tied up in House committees. For now, SB 373 is stuck in the House Judiciary Committee.

From there it must travel to the House Finance Committee and then, onto the House floor.

Any amendments to SB 373 will also need to be hashed out in a joint House and Senate conference committee.

Though the Legislature is no stranger to waiting until its last day in session to vote on complex measures, we’re beginning to wonder.

All bets are off, but it’s starting to look like any comprehensive legislation to address the chemical spill will be consigned to a special session.

If that happens, it will allow lawmakers more time to study this bill’s particulars, but it also allows more time to water it down.

In other developments, Freedom Industries, the company at the center of the spill, will begin dismantling its tanks March 15, and by March 18 it plans to have winded down its operations, after selling its chemicals.

Lawsuits against Freedom Industries — by businesses and individuals — are on hold during its bankruptcy proceedings.

Also in the Legislature last week, lobbyists ensured SB 626 — that would have created an office of Elk River Spill Vi c t i m s ’ Compensation — wouldn’t float.

The water company was named as one of the three parties potentially responsible for compensating businesses and people affected by the spill.

Its argument against this bill was that it circumvented the courts and presumed the water company and others were responsible for pain and suffering.

Finally, there was no entry in this year’s Berkeley Springs International Water Tasting competition from Charleston. Entries from around the world enter the contest hoping to be named the best municipal tap water or bottled water. Apparently, Charleston decided it did not need anymore publicity about its tap water.

But despite the bills on hold or that have died, a company intent on disappearing and a city intent on avoiding publicity, this is not water over some spillway — gone forever.

Indeed, every company that taps our state’s rivers and streams is on notice: It’s no longer business as usual.

And if the Legislature will not protect our waterways, then the press and the public will.

Click here for The Dominion Post e-edition.

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