Responding to the Freedom Industries chemical spill
On Tuesday, Gov. Tomblin signed Senate Bill 373 into law. This is not huge news, because the bill could become law without his signature, but now it’s official.
In his story, the Charleston Gazette’s Eric Eyre pointed to the real issue before us now:
Lawmakers left many significant decisions — such as the details of tank safety standards — for the state Department of Environmental Protection to hash out by writing rules. Those rules are required to be written for legislative review during the 2015 regular session.
DEP Secretary Randy Huffman said last week that he plans to set up a process that would allow for more public involvement in those rule than as typical for most agency rules.
Normally, DEP writes a proposed rule and accepts public comments on those rules before submitting a final version to the Legislature for its review.
“We want to do more than that,” Huffman said.
Huffman said he wants to hold meetings with various industry and citizen groups interested in the rule to get their input. He said he had not yet decided if those meetings would be open to the general public or the media.
This was the major problem with SB 373. Legislators left most of the details of implementation in the hands of the WV DEP, an agency kept chronically underfunded by the coal industry dominated Legislature and whose lack of regulatory oversight contributed to the probability of a spill like the one at Freedom Industries.
Citizens were heavily engaged in the Legislative process. Sen. Unger, the bill’s original sponsor, acknowledged this fact:
Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, said the bill “got progressively better” as it moved through the Legislature.
“Truly, it became the people’s bill,” he said.
The question remains – Will the rules to be developed by the DEP over the next year be the people’s rules, or will lobbyists and their friend DEP Secretary Huffman make it the industry’s rules?