The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Local News

January 31, 2014

Chemical bill facing long road in House

CHARLESTON — After passing the state Senate unanimously earlier this week, a bill designed to regulate chemical storage tanks and thus prevent a leak from contaminating other public water systems in the state was referenced to three committees in the House of Delegates.

Such a move usually means the death knell for a bill.

Senate Majority Leader John Unger said he hopes that is not the case.

“The House is fully aware; they know the situation,” Unger said. “They know the urgency.”

The “urgency” was created three weeks ago when a chemical compound used to clean coal seeped from a World War II-era storage tank a little more than half-a-mile above the water intake for some 300,000 state residents.

First estimates for 5,000 gallons of Crude MCHM were increased to 7,500 gallons, and now the tank’s owner, Freedom Industries, says that 10,000 gallons of Crude MCHM and its companion chemical stripped PPH leaked from the tank.

“We can’t have chemicals spilling into our drinking water,” Unger said. “This could happen anywhere, anytime.”

Unger said the bill will allow the Department of Environmental Protection to register chemical storage tanks so that their location and their contents would be known. The bill also calls for registration fees and inspections by approved engineers.

The majority leader said the bill closes a “gaping hole” in the state’s protection system that “needs to be closed immediately.”

He pointed out that Freedom Industries is under order to remove its chemicals from the 13 storage tanks on its property on the Elk River and dismantle the tanks.

“Without this legislation we would have no idea where they move it,” Unger said.

Unger said he encourages the House to study the bill thoroughly and expedite it as quickly as possible.

But, he said, “let the people see what you do.”

“People are paying for water they are scared to take showers in,” he said. “And they still have to buy bottled water (to drink).”

Those people want the truth, he said, they are angry and they want action. He urged House committees to record the individual votes of each member for the public record.

“Don’t hide in back rooms cutting deals so it never sees the light of day,” he said.

Delegate Mike Manypenny, D-Taylor, is co-chair of the Joint Committee on Water Resources, which has met frequently since the chemical spill.

Manypenny said he sees the triple-reference as the House “taking it slow and getting it right.”

“This is such an important issue,” he said. “I can tell you with almost 100 percent surety that is the reason.”

Manypenny said he believes the bill will start moving in the House early next week, but not until after a Monday public hearing in the House Chamber. He said committee members are talking with “some of the more responsible players in the industry who already have good protocol” when it comes to chemical spills.

- - -

Unger may have been right about the level of anger among the people.

Thursday morning a man from Boone County was stopped at the door of the Capitol because he was carrying a jug of his tea-colored tap water. In addition, a few dozen people carrying signs saying things like “We Need the EPA” formed a receiving line for delegates as they left the chamber.

Manypenny retrieved the Boone County water, but noted that people should not bring their water to the Capitol, but instead take it to the National Guard for testing.

— E-mail: ppritt@register-herald.com

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