CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Five days after a chemical leak tainted the water supply in nine West Virginia counties, lawmakers are asking whether new or updated laws are needed.
Legislators in both the state Senate and House of Delegates are looking into the incident and what loopholes may have prevented the leak from being reported earlier. The company, Freedom Industries, allegedly knew of the leak hours before it was reported.
Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, wants to amend the State Water Resources Management Plan to reflect needed changes. Unger, who chairs the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on State Water Resources, said he has talked to National Guard and state Department of Homeland Security officials about their ideas.
"This is a wake up call," Unger said. "It could have been a whole lot worse than it was. It also demonstrated our vulnerability as far as our water supplies, not just in the Kanawha Valley but in West Virginia."
In addition to the legislation, Unger is calling for an investigation into the spill, noting the investigation isn't to prosecute Freedom Industries, but to determine what happened and to find ways to keep it from happening in the future.
"We're going to have to launch an investigation to see what happened, how it happened and look at putting provisions in place so that it never happens again," Unger said.
Several federal and state investigations are already underway.
Unger said his focus over the next week would be getting to the bottom of what happened and restoring consumer confidence. He said he's working both privately and publicly to address the issue in the short and long term.
"And then of course putting in place provisions to protect our water resources so that this never happens again in West Virginia and that people will have confidence that their water resource is safe to drink and bathe in," he said.
But House Speaker Tim Miley, D-Harrison, was slow to speculate on any potential legislation that may come about as a result of the leak. He said until state and local agencies present the findings of their own investigations, it may be a bit premature to talk about making new laws.
"Whenever you have a calamitous event like we've had, there is going to be an immediate outcry for changes to be made and legislation to be enacted to accomplish those changes," he said. "I don't know enough about how or why this happened to give you a knee jerk reaction as to what legislation if any needs to be implemented to prevent it from happening again." Miley said the Legislature would work with the Governor's Office in a bipartisan manner to determine the problem and what changes need to be made to prevent future occurrences.
Delegate Patrick Lane, R-Kanawha, asked Miley to form a special committee to investigate the leak. Lane said his primary concern is the safety of residents, but he does welcome the economic growth brought by the coal and chemical industries.