WVPA Sharing

WVPA Sharing: Tom Miller Legislative Column for Feb. 2 posted

CHARLESTON, W.Va. —  The first major issue of the 2014 session cleared a hurdle when the West Virginia State Senate voted unanimously last week to pass Senate Bill 373 that calls for stronger regulations on above-ground storage tanks after a recent chemical spill in Charleston.

This legislation, now under consideration in the House of Delegates, addresses issued found after Freedom Industries had a chemical leak into the public water supply on Jan. 9 — a leak into the Elk River that left 300,000 people in a state of emergency and without safe drinking water. It’s an issue that is still of concern in West Virginia.

Senate Majority Leader John Unger, D-Berkeley, is the lead sponsor of the legislation that would require registrations and annual inspections for most surface-level tanks that store fluids. Tanks within 25 miles upstream of a public water supply source would be more closely monitored.

“The people want to have assurance this will never happen again, here or anywhere in West Virginia,” Unger said.

Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, proposed last week that the Legislature create a “future fund” patterned after the Legacy Fund created in North Dakota. That state capitalized on the fossil fuel industry by setting aside $1.5 billion in 20 months.

“We need to create real wealth and opportunity for people and diversify our economy,” Kessler said.  “Instead of spending like drunken sailors, let’s put some of it away and in a few years we’ll have a nest egg.”

Meanwhile, two members of the House of Delegates were injured in separate and unrelated incidents last week.

Morgantown police confirmed that Delegate Anthony Barill, D-Monongalia, was unintentionally shot at his home by his son on Saturday, Jan. 25 by his son, Bradley, who then apparently committed suicide.

Delegate Tiffany Lawrence, D-Jefferson, was hospitalized and nearly lost sight in one eye after bathing in water that had been declared safe at her Charleston hotel on Tuesday evening — five days after the Jan. 9 leak of at least 10,000 gallons of a chemical from a storage tank owned by Freedom Industries along the nearby Elk River.

Delegate Lawrence was one of  more than 500 people who were treated and released from 10 different hospitals after the leak, according to Allison Adler, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Health and Human Resources.

Members of the House of Delegates are divided on the issue of legislation relating to cold medications containing pseudoephedrine, which is a key ingredient in making meth. Methamphetamine lab seizures were up 85 percent in 2013 and police discovered the illegal drug-making operations in 45 of the state’s 55 counties.

Delegate John Ellem, R-Wood, said meth labs frequently cause fires in his county. “It seems like we average one lab a week,” he told The Charleston Gazette.  “And sometimes it’s two a week.”

Ellem supports the proposed legislation to require a prescription for pseudo ephedrine purchases.

Delegate Kelli Sobonya, R-Cabell, opposes the legislation.  She maintains that meth labs are not a statewide problem.

“It’s a Kanawha County issue,” she told The Gazette.  “I want to help Kanawha County, but look at all these counties that have no meth labs.”

A state law enacted in 2012 requires statewide electronic tracking of pseudoephedrine and limits the purchase of the cold medication to about three boxes a month and 20 boxes a year.

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