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Judiciary committee approves chemical spill bill

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- As an ominous winter storm crept over West Virginia -- and while many people slept -- the House Judiciary Committee officially approved the latest version of a bill crafted in the wake of the recent massive chemical spill.

With debate lasting for 9 hours and with more than 60 amendments discussed, the pace resembled that of the weather system.

After a 105-minute delay before the meeting, and three hours of discussions, the committee had discussed about 10 amendments. Much of the discussion occurred after midnight.

The bill passed the committee by a unanimous voice vote. It still needs to go to the House Finance Committee, and the Senate must agree to changes before it could go to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's desk for final approval.

If the Senate doesn't agree with the changes, each chamber will need to pick lawmakers to participate in a conference committee. The committee would then need to agree on any additional changes.

The regular legislative session ends Saturday night.

Several amendments dominated the Sunday night/Monday morning discussion.

The committee rejected a mandate for public water suppliers to have a secondary intake source, but required West Virginia American Water Co. to install upgraded chemical detection equipment at the recently contaminated treatment facility.

Another amendment would task the state with monitoring the potential longterm health affects of the spill

Here's more of the ins and outs of what was proposed:-- An amendment proposed by Stephen Skinner, D-Jefferson, that was meant to address citizen lawsuits failed.

"It allows the citizens to sue a company like Freedom, and force it to comply with... the law," Skinner said.

The change would have given a private citizen the legal standing to sue any company violating the provisions of the bill.

It would also have permitted citizens to sue the state Department of Environmental Protection and force the agency to enforce the bill. It failed by a 15-10 vote. Delegate J.B. McCuskey, R-Kanawha, was the only delegate among the five on the committee from Kanawha County to vote "no."

-- An adopted amendment requires facility owners to keep maintenance logs on tanks. The logs would include the amount of chemicals being stored, any changes to those levels, additives and other information.

The company would have to provide that information to the DEP upon request Skinner proposed the amendment and said he thinks any legitimate business probably keeps that information anyway.

There were questions from the DEP and other officials whether Freedom Industries, the owner of the tank that leaked at least 10,000 gallons of chemicals into the Elk River in January, had enough accurate information about what it was storing.

-- Another change requires specific maintenance schedules over the life of a tank. Skinner, Meshea Poore, D-Kanawha, and Mike Mannypenny, D-Tyler, sponsored that amendment.

After the amendment was delayed, Chairman Tim Manchin, D-Marion, brought it up for a voice vote. He determined the amendment had passed, eliciting groans from several members.

-- Skinner, along with other delegates, proposed another amendment that addressed potential issues with tank sizes. The definition of an aboveground storage tank in the bill includes, among many other qualifications, that it be at least 1,320 gallons.

Skinner's amendment would have required companies that move chemicals from tanks of that size to smaller ones still be regulated under the bill. That amendment failed.

That was all before midnight.

Here are highlights from the last five hours of the meeting, which ended at 1:30 a.m. Monday:

  • In a 12:45 a.m. vote the committee agreed to call on the state to conduct longterm medical monitoring. The amendment requires the state Bureau for Public Health engage in the work related to the recent leak, allowing it leeway in creating the outline for the monitoring. Bureau officials have said it will be too expensive, but Kanawha-Charleston Health Department head Dr. Rahul Gupta and Delegate Meshea Poore, D-Kanawha, have said repeatedly it's vital to have such monitoring.
  • The committee approved an amendment that requires large public water suppliers to install new chemical detection equipment at treatment plants. The language of the amendment makes it likely West Virginia American Water is the only company to which the change would apply. A representative from ORSANCO recently discussed the upgrade, and West Virginia American Water President Jeff McIntyre said the company has the equipment in question installed at its Huntington facility. It passed by a 15-10 vote.
  • Delegate Patrick Lane, R-Kanawha, and other members of the Kanawha County delegation on the committee failed to garner support for his amendment to require West Virginia American Water to build a secondary intake pipe at the recently affected treatment center. The change would have allowed the company to receive up to $100 million in loans from the state to build the infrastructure. Those delegates who voted against the proposal cited issues with feasibility and giving such amounts of money to the Kanawha Valley when other projects in other areas away from the Capitol City weren't funded. It failed by a 7-18 vote.
  • An amendment proposed by Delegate Mike Manypenny, D-Tyler, called for exterior inspections of aboveground storage tanks every year, and an interior inspection at least once in the next 5 years. The facility would have to inspect the inside of the tank every 10 years thereafter. The amendment failed after a representative from DuPont chemical discussed some safety issues he had with the idea. In arguing against the change, Delegate John Pino, D-Fayette, said "we have an industry with a good track record" in reference to the chemical industry. After three recent visits from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board regarding the industry, federal officials might disagree.
  • An adopted change allows small public service districts (PSDs) more time to respond to the Bureau for Public Health concerning emergency preparedness.
  • The committee created the Public Water System Study Commission, an entity that will consider the reports that come our in connection the leak and whether additional changes to the law are needed. The commission is also supposed to consider recommendations from the Chemical Safety Board's other trips to West Virginia.
  • After little debate the committee voted down a proposed amendment that would have forced public water utilities to close their intakes in the event of a spill until the water was deemed safe. McIntyre again told committee members in hindsight he wouldn't close the intake, given concerns with fire prevention and sanitation concerns. Others expressed concerns about the definition of "safe", an ongoing concern.

In its original form, the bill created a new regulatory framework for aboveground storage tanks and increased emergency preparedness measures.

It still includes increased regulations and the emergency procedures. It also requires the DEP to issue permits and conduct annual inspections of sites that sit near public water sources.

Manchin, the chairman, said Friday he planned to put the bill up for a vote Sunday evening.

Poore and about 20 other delegates sent a letter to Tomblin requesting he consider allowing lawmakers to continue working on the bill during the now-routine "budget week," an extended session that comes the week after the regular session.

Speaker Tim Miley, D-Harrison, said he didn't think there would be a need for a special session. He criticized the letter last week, but said in a followup statement he misunderstood the goal of the letter.

"To the extent I perceived that any delegate lacked such a desire or purpose is the result of misunderstanding and miscommunication internally," Miley said in a news release.

"It is now clear that I was unnecessarily concerned."

Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, and other senators do not think a special session on the bill is necessary. Earlier in the year they questioned whether Miley was trying to delay action by sending it to three committees.

Known as a "triple reference," the move has traditionally been seen as a way to keep legislation from passing. Miley and many delegates denied the claim, saying they wanted a thorough review of the bill.

Tomblin hasn't said whether he would include a discussion of the bill during any extended or special session. He did officially end the state of emergency Friday.

The state of emergency was enacted hours after officials discovered the spill had contaminated drinking water in nine counties. It remained in effect more than 50 days.

Contact writer Dave Boucher at 304-348-4843 or david.boucher @dailymailwv.com. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/Dave_Boucher1.


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