Responding to the Freedom Industries chemical spill
In the WV Senate, a number of elements of Gov. Tomblin’s secret industry tank protection bill were combined into Sen. Unger’s original Senate Bill 373. One of the worst features of the industry/Tomblin bill was the long list of storage tanks that the Governor’s bill exempted from state regulation.
Yesterday, the House Judiciary Committee, which is now considering SB 373 after the bill crossed over from the Senate last week, held an informational hearing on the Governor’s industry exemptions in the bill. The Charleston Gazette’s Ken Ward had a great account of the hearing in this morning’s paper. Numerous state government officials who testified at the hearing could not explain or justify any of the exemptions that are listed in the current form of SB 373. The only reason those exemptions are there is that coal and chemical and gas industry lobbyists told Gov. Tomblin to put them there. Now is the time for House Judiciary to remove them all from the bill.
As it turns out, Del. Barbara Fleischauer made the same suggestion at yesterday’s hearing. SB 373 now includes a requirement that the state Bureau of Health create an inventory of all above ground tanks of all kinds that threaten public water supplies. Del. Fleischauer suggested that all exemptions be removed from SB 373 until after these inventories are completed. If there is any reason to exempt any tanks from the law once all threats have been identified and inventoried, then DEP and the Legislature could consider it then.
Boggs [WV DEP's general counsel] said the DEP does support language, added in the House Health Committee, that would require an agency inventory of all above-ground storage tanks, whether they are covered by an exemption from the bill’s permit and inspection requirements or not.
“[The] DEP wants all of that information,” Boggs said. “We want an inventory of every tank.”
Delegate Barbara Fleischauer, D-Monongalia, suggested that perhaps lawmakers should strip the exemptions from the bill. The DEP could conduct its inventory first, Fleischauer said, and lawmakers could allow the agency to write exemptions later, based on what the inventory shows.
In a separate article, Ken Ward quotes WV DEP Secretary Randy Huffman as agreeing with this position:
West Virginia’s top environmental regulator said Friday his agency needs more authority over all above-ground chemical storage tanks in the state — regardless of whether the tanks are covered by industry-proposed exemptions in a bill making its way through the Legislature.
Randy Huffman, secretary of the state Department of Environmental Protection, said he hopes lawmakers will amend the bill to give the DEP authority to make all storage tanks comply with structural-integrity standards the agency will design.
Huffman made his comments after a House Judiciary Committee hearing in which lawmakers grilled a contingent of DEP staffers about a list of more than 20 exemptions to the bill’s new permit requirements.
“It doesn’t do any good to exempt the tanks from having to meet the integrity standards if the tanks pose the same kinds of risks as the tanks at Freedom Industries,” Huffman said in an interview.
People who support the current exemptions claim that they don’t want to have tanks regulated under SB 373 if those tanks are already regulated. As Ward explains, that argument doesn’t hold up when you look at the other regulations:
Lawmakers and supporters of the exemptions have said the point was to not duplicate regulation or permitting requirements that tanks covered by exemptions are already subject to under other state or federal regulatory programs.
However, during Thursday’s Judiciary meeting, DEP officials made it clear that not all the categories of exempt tanks are subject to mandatory inspections or specific safety or integrity standards.
For example, Lewis Halstead, a deputy director of the DEP’s Division of Mining and Reclamation, reminded lawmakers that his agency is mandated under state strip-mining laws to periodically inspect all coal operations. However, those inspections, Halstead said, do not include testing the structural integrity of chemical storage tanks — including those at preparation plants that might contain coal-cleaning chemicals, such as MCHM.
Also, James Martin, director of the DEP’s Office of Oil and Gas, said his agency likewise doesn’t do tank integrity testing — and isn’t required to conduct periodical natural gas site inspections.
“There are times when those sites are inspected,” Martin said. “There is not a routine or mandatory inspection frequency. We don’t have that in our rule or statute.”
All tanks need to be regulated and subject to state inspection. Period. Thank goodness Chairman Tim Manchin and the House Judiciary Committee seem to be moving toward removing all of Gov. Tomblin’s industry friendly exemptions from SB 373.