By Pamela Pritt
The Senate leadership Thursday introduced a bill that would require owners of above-ground liquid storage tanks to obtain permits and allow inspections, and to maintain a leak-detection system.
The bill calls for civil penalties for violations.
A Freedom Industries storage tank seeped 7,500 gallons of Crude MCHM into the Elk River just above the intake for the region’s 300,000 water customers. The compound chemical is used to clean coal.
Majority Leader John Unger, D-Berkeley, said Tuesday he was pushing the bill as “an urgent matter.”
“We need to put this in place to give the DEP the authority to see what’s there,” Unger said. The senator said the Department of Environmental Protection doesn’t know either the location or the contents of storage tanks throughout the state.
Thursday, Unger said the bill is urgent, but he wants the process to be deliberative. He said he expects a lot of debate over the issues surrounding the regulatory bill.
“I’ll fight against anything that will water it down,” he said. “There’s a safety factor there.” He noted that underground tanks are permitted and inspected and the proposed legislation mirrors those regulations.
Unger said he didn’t know if the water intake or the chemical holding tanks were constructed first, one of the things the bill will address.
“If we had this in place, what happened here could have been prevented,” Unger said. “Probably even siting them, having that tank so close the river where the water intake was so close by — that should have been discussed and examined.”
The legislative oversight committee on water resources meets today and will focus on what happened, how it happened and how it can be fixed, Unger said.
“We need to send a message not only to our residents that our water is safe, we need to send that message to the rest of the country and the world.
“We’ve learned our lesson on this. West Virginia has an abundant natural resource, and we’re protecting that natural resource.”
In addition to regulating any company storing liquids other than water, the bill would mandate funding from the DEP, the Division of Natural Resources, the Division of Highways and the Conservation Agency to provide matching funds for the U.S. Geological Survey’s stream gauging network “to the maximum extent practicable.”
Republican leadership from both the House and the Senate stopped short of supporting the bill.
House Minority Leader Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, said on West Virginia Public Television Thursday evening that Republicans were “very surprised” above-ground storage tanks were not already inspected.
Senate Minority Leader Mike Hall, R-Putnam, said Republicans were not opposed to all regulations.
“We’re the party of reasonable regulation, not irritating regulation,” Hall said.
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