By Greg Jordan
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
In the wake of a major chemical spill, a bill addressing state programs protecting water supplies, and setting minimum federal standards for chemical facilities subject to state programs, is being brought before Congress, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said Tuesday.
Manchin paid visits to several Mercer County locations Tuesday to hear from local people about issues ranging from the coal industry to a bill he is co-sponsoring with U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-California. Boxer serves on the Committee of Environmental and Public Works. This bill, the Chemical Safety Drinking Water Protection Act of 2014, will be presented to Congress on Jan. 27, Manchin said.
“Everybody knows about the water situation,” Manchin said of the Jan. 10 chemical spill at the Elk River near Charleston. The spill affected water supplies for more than 300,000 people.
Manchin said the site of Freedom Industries was a former Pennzoil storage yard that existed for years before a West Virginia American Water plant was constructed nearby. Manchin told the morning audience at the Mercer County Courthouse Annex that he did not know why the plant’s water intake was not placed upstream from the chemical facility.
Above-ground storage tanks are not inspected the same way underground tanks are checked, Manchin said.
“I would assume we were inspecting above-ground storage the way we inspect underground storage, and we didn’t,” he said.
The new act would direct states to use existing source water protection plans developed under the Safe Drinking Water Act to identify facilities that present a risk to drinking water. It would also set minimum standards for chemical facilities subject to a state program. These standards would cover construction, leak detection, spill and overfill requirements, emergency response and combination plans, and notification of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), state officials and public water systems of chemicals being stored in a facility.
Manchin said he drank the water at a home he keeps in Charleston and has not experienced any ill effects.
After visiting the new Children's Home Society of West Virginia quarters in Princeton, Manchin spoke with Bluefield residents at the Bluefield Area Arts Center. Concerns about the coal industry and the federal plan known as “Obamacare” were among the topics that were discussed.
The EPA is currently holding coal-fired power plants to extremely high standards that cannot be met, Manchin said.
“They’re asking us to hit figures that technology has not been developed or designed to do,” he stated. “And if you don’t do it, you’re out of compliance. We’ve got a lot of fuel switching to natural gas.”
To address this problem, Manchin said he is introducing legislation that if air emissions from coal generation are going to be regulated, then the basis should best results from clean coal technology.
“We take six of the best plants that have been under commercial load, which means they’ve been producing commercial power for one year,” he said.
Air emissions from these plants would be measured and used as the standard other power plants using coal should meet, Manchin said.