The Times West Virginian

West Virginia

February 28, 2014

Chemical spill bill amended in House committee

CHARLESTON — As time ticks away, West Virginia lawmakers are suggesting another face-lift for a bill that would tighten aboveground storage tank regulations and safeguard water systems against chemical spills.

The House of Delegates Judiciary Committee introduced an amended bill Thursday responding to the Jan. 9 Freedom Industries spill, which contaminated 300,000 people’s water for days. With few lawmaking days left before the session ends March 8, a group of legislators asked Thursday for extended time to tackle the proposal.

The 80-page bill still has to pass Judiciary and another committee before the House would hold a full vote. The Senate would need to agree on any House changes.

But House Speaker Tim Miley, D-Harrison, quickly shot down the call for extra legislative time Thursday.

“I regret that these members want to give up on passing a bill during the regular session when we still have plenty of time to perfect it,” Miley said.

The wide-ranging changes Thursday kept the crux of the bill intact. The proposal would require yearly inspections of aboveground storage tanks. Public water supplies would need a thorough analysis of how to prevent and react to threats.

But the new version of the bill switches which tanks would be exempt from additional inspections. Some exempt tanks would include those holding fewer than 1,310 gallons, facilities that mix or make chemicals, most tanks on trucks and trains, and liquid traps or gathering lines for oil and gas production.

Other tanks could be exempt from more oversight if they show they are facing regulations at least as stringent as what the bill prescribes.

The bill would require about 150 public water systems statewide to craft protection plans, potentially with money from state reserves.

Delegate Tim Manchin, D-Marion and Judiciary Committee chairman, said the state could use money in West Virginia’s $915 million rainy day account to help water systems pay for the evaluations.

Budget woes already are prompting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and lawmakers to consider digging deep into those reserves. Miley said about $200 million in reserve could be needed to patch the state’s spending plan.

The version discussed Thursday also eliminates a requirement for water companies to have secondary intakes or three to five days’ worth of extra water available. Manchin said the requirement could cost some water companies millions of dollars, a cost that would shift to customers.

The changes come after an updated storage tank inventory Thursday from the state Department of Environmental Protection. The agency now estimates 1,600 aboveground storage tanks at more than 100 facilities exist close to water supplies.

The Freedom Industries site was 1.5 miles upstream from the West Virginia American Water plant it contaminated.

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