The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

January 14, 2014

Unger plans bill to mandate DEP inspection of all liquid holding tanks

By Pamela Pritt
Register-Herald Reporter

CHARLESTON — In response to a chemical spill that left 300,000 state residents without usable water for most of a week, the Senate’s majority leader plans to introduce legislation this week that will mandate all liquid holding tanks be regulated and regularly inspected by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection.

Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, said Tuesday that he’s pushing the legislation as “an urgent matter to protect our water resources.”

“This situation could have been far worse if the chemical had been more toxic or had no odor,” he said.

As it is, only a fraction of West Virginia American’s water customers are able to use their tap water for more than flushing commodes and fighting fires today. The chemical, 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, smells like licorice.

Unger said liquid holding facilities, except for those that contain water, would be registered and subject to inspection. The senator said at this point, the DEP doesn’t know the location of all the above-ground chemical tanks in the state, nor does the agency know what chemicals may be in them.

The legislation would map those tanks through the registration process.

“We need to put this in place to give the DEP the authority to see what’s there,” Unger said.

Unger, who chairs the water resources committee, said the registration fees would pay for the increase in the number of DEP inspectors, but did not say how much the fees would be. The DEP will set the rates, he said.

While no elected official makes light of increased fees for businesses, Unger maintained that any company following proper procedures shouldn’t have a problem with the new regulations.

Further, Unger pointed out that businesses in the affected area have had costs associated with the mandatory shutdown since Friday. The senator also pointed out another cost to the state — one that can’t be measured in dollars and cents.

West Virginia’s reputation is taking a hit, with even late-night comedians voicing shock that the leaky tank had not been inspected since 1991.

Unger fears that companies which might have been interested in locating here because of the state’s abundant and clean water will hesitate because of the chemical spill.

“The message needs to be sent right now,” he said. “We need to know what happened, how it happened and that we learned from this situation. We’re putting policies in place to ensure the safety of our water.

“If you can’t get the water right, the other stuff doesn’t happen.”

Unger said the bill would be introduced Wednesday or Thursday, and he hopes it would be expedited in committee and be sent to the House of Delegates on Friday.

— E-mail: ppritt@register-herald.com