The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

January 15, 2014

Morrisey vows chemical spill probe

W.Va. AG says his office will get truth out

By Cody Neff
Register-Herald Reporter

— West Virginia’s attorney general told the Beckley Rotary Club Tuesday that his office is going to look into everything that happened with the recent chemical spill and water crisis and make sure it never happens again.

“We're going to get the truth out to the public and then we’re going to come up with some recommendations about how to keep this from happening in the future,” Patrick Morrisey said.

“I think people really tried to do good things during this water crisis. The last thing I would want to do is point fingers, but we’re going to have a very thorough review to make sure that this never happens again.

“We’re going to be meeting with all of the relevant people involved in this issue and outline what the timeline looks like, do interviews ... . We’re going to outline all of the steps, obviously by Freedom Industries, but we're going to look across the board. We're going to look at what the state has done to ensure appropriate preparedness. ...”

Morrisey said his office will follow the governor’s lead and look for any gaps in laws that could let this happen again.

“One of the things I’ve been thinking about is that we have some laws on the book for a bioterrorism and public health preparedness law. That was something I worked on when I was still a (congressional) staffer.

“We’re going to particularly look at some of those things and figure out if there are some things that we could change and whether the counties and states are doing everything right.”

When they first heard about the chemical spill, Morrisey said his office did several things to help people.

“One of the first things we tried to do was get our consumer teams out there and try to help folks who were most vulnerable and take the step to ensure that everyone has an adequate supply,” he said. “I was very worried about individuals in some of the rural areas.

Morrisey said he is proud of the way everyone in the state reacted to the crisis.

“I would say that the best news here is that West Virginians really came together and acted in a positive manner,” he said. “We went out on Thursday night and talked about the price-gouging law. I wanted to nip it in the bud before it happened. We had a lot of complaints on Friday, but then the complaints started to taper off Saturday and Sunday. I think that’s positive.

“If you educate people and folks know what the law is, they don’t engage in that activity. We had well over 150 phone calls. I think as of yesterday we had over 74 complaints that we had actually investigated. We’re taking a look and seeing whether it’s appropriate to do subpoenas. There are some instances where we were doing ‘cease-and-desist’ letters to some of the companies to make sure that folks know what the rules of the road are.”

Morrisey also took the time to talk about some of the work his office had been working on before the chemical spill.

“We’ve been very aggressive in enforcing all of our state’s laws,” he said. “I would argue that our consumer protection division has been strong as any in recent memory.

West Virginia could be seeing less federal government help in the future, so we need to supercharge our economy, Morrisey said.

“We have a phenomenal energy industry. We’re the third-largest producer of energy in the country. We’re strategically located from a geographic perspective. We’re competitive in terms of our wages. We have the chance to lure more people into West Virginia and build more good jobs here in the state.”

— E-mail: cneff@register-herald.com