Opinion

Weaken or neglect chemical storage tank rules?

An editorial from The Charleston Gazette

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — As memory of the January water crisis ebbs away, forces are gathering to weaken a law intended to prevent above-ground chemical storage tanks from leaking poison into the water.

Last month, House Speaker Tim Miley asked Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to interfere with regulations required by the Legislature in the “Above Ground Storage Act” (SB373). In a July 9 letter to the governor, Miley, D-Harrison, says he has met with small oil and gas operators who say the Legislature’s law to protect the state’s drinking water will be too onerous for them to follow.

Apparently Miley does not remember that in January, the day after the Legislature convened for this year’s regular session, a chemical spill on the Elk River contaminated West Virginia American Water’s sole intake for the region. For days, 300,000 people were without drinking, cooking and bathing water. Businesses and schools were closed. Some people were made ill. For weeks, residents smelled the chemical lingering in their pipes and appliances. Now, many months later, after pushing and demanding precautions be taken at the water treatment plant and for the future, people are finally regaining confidence in their water supply.

While lawmakers were debating the “Above Ground Storage Act” earlier this year to prevent another “aquapocalypse,” the governor had an industry-only meeting where he received a long list of exemptions to insert into the bill to keep any anti-pollution law from interfering with polluters. The House of Delegates — where Miley rules — wisely rejected most of these exemptions and passed a decent bill.

Now, Gov. Tomblin is considering calling a special session of the Legislature to do what? Weaken the law aimed at keeping MCHM and other chemicals from leaching into ground and drinking water, spoiling property and interfering with everyone else’s work and life?

At least this time Gov. Tomblin’s office made an effort to meet with concerned citizens other than those who don’t want meaningful pollution prevention. Will he listen to them? He says he is not interested in major changes to the law.

DEP has said it will follow the law, which is reassuring. DEP appears to be working hard to meet tight deadlines. The department has provided chemical storage tank owners with instructions on how to comply with a Jan. 1 deadline for the first round of tank inspections and certifications. So far, so good. The Legislature is expecting rules for its review during the next regular session.

Meanwhile, another part of the bill suffers from neglect. Gov. Tomblin signed the bill into law four months ago, but still has not appointed members of the new Public Water System Supply Commission created by the act…

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