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Could Senate Create Loopholes in WV Water Protection Law?

PHOTO: West Virginia lawmakers are taking up a bill that would roll back part of the water protection law passed after last year's Elk River spill. Observers say it includes a loophole that might apply to Freedom Industries. Photo credit: Dan Heyman.
PHOTO: West Virginia lawmakers are taking up a bill that would roll back part of the water protection law passed after last year's Elk River spill. Observers say it includes a loophole that might apply to Freedom Industries. Photo credit: Dan Heyman.
February 25, 2015

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - The West Virginia state Senate is considering putting what critics are calling "loopholes" in water protections passed after last year's Freedom Industries chemical spill.

The Senate Judiciary Committee took its first look at Senate Bill 423 on Tuesday. The measure would roll back part of the above-ground storage tank water-safety law passed after the Elk River spill.

Angie Rosser, executive director of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition, attended the committee meeting. To her, she said, it appears that about three-quarters of the tanks now regulated under the law could be exempted.

"We have around 50,000 tanks," Rosser said, "and the suggestion is that only 12,000 of those would fall into regulation under the Above-Ground Storage Tank Act."

Another provision in the bill would let tank owners apply to have their tanks exempted from the law, if their sites are covered by some other kinds of pollution plans. In those cases, it would be up to the secretary of the state Department of Environmental Protection to see to it that the pollution plans in place would be amended to regulate the tanks. Rosser said she sees that as a potential weak spot in the rules.

"How stringent would those alternatives be? Will they be truly sufficient in protecting our waters," she said, "or is this a possible loophole?"

Rosser noted that Freedom Industries had a groundwater protection plan in place at the time of the spill. She said that could have allowed the owners to apply for an exemption under the new legislation.

"Obviously, a site that poses a great risk to our water supplies that would not have to conform, necessarily, exactly to the standards of the act," she said. "That would be largely under the discretion of the secretary."

Many West Virginia lawmakers have said they believe last year's law was an overreaction to the spill, and that it covers too many storage tanks.

Track SB 423 online at legis.state.wv.us.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV