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Patrol boat on the Elk River motors past Freedom Industries plant.
Inspections? Plans to deal with future contamination? Are West Virginia's lawmakers finally wising up?
Half a dozen hearings, days of testimony and wrangling over some 100 amendments finally ended Wednesday night when the West Virginia House of Delegates passed a bill regulating above-ground chemical storage tanks. The bill, which must be reconciled with legislation already passed by the state Senate, passed 95-0.  

The legislature's action was spurred by a 10,000-gallon spill of a little-studied coal-cleaning chemical into the Elk River, a major source of drinking water. Some 300,000 West Virginians in nine counties had to rely on bottled water after the spill, which exposed the state's wink-wink, nod-nod coal-industry friendly regulatory system.

If the bill becomes law and actually gets enforced, it will make for a significant improvement. But there are still holes. For one thing, the bill only covers tanks holding more than 1,320 gallons:

Evan Hansen, a Morgantown environmental consultant who worked on the bill has called that number a "major problem."

Hansen said lawmakers misinterpreted a federal rule on oil tanks. That rule, the Spill Prevention, Control and Countermeasure Rule, only exempts tanks if the total aggregate volume of all tanks at a site is less than 1,320 gallons. It does not exempt individual tanks of less than 1,320 gallons.

More about the bill below the fold.

Among the provisions, the bill requires:

• setting up a registry and annual inspections of all above-ground storage tanks, focusing extra attention on those inside "zones of critical concern" upstream of water intake points.

• every water utility in West Virginia to submit a plan for how it will respond to future contamination. Included in each plan must be provisions for a feasibility study on adding a second water intake point or storage facilities for several days supply of water.

• West Virginia American Water, the state's largest supplier of drinking water, to install an early warning monitoring system to alert plant operators of contaminants in their raw water supplies in case the chemicals in the next spill don't smell like licorice or otherwise give away their presence without testing.

• Bureau for Public Health to conduct a long-term study of health effects of the chemical leak.

All good ideas. But the House delegates shot down a key factor for making the legislation work: allowing people to sue their water company, chemical tank-owners, the state's Bureau for Public Health or Department of Environmental Protection to make it enforce the bill's provisions. Given the state's propensity for ignoring industrial pollution, leaving out the stick of possible lawsuits calls into question just how serious the legislature is in actually protecting its citizens.

•••

murrayewv has a discussion on this subject here.

Originally posted to Meteor Blades on Thu Mar 06, 2014 at 12:28 PM PST.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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