Responding to the Freedom Industries chemical spill
Everyone said that having the water crisis happen during the legislative session last year was a great thing. I disagree.
The timing of the water crisis meant that public attention focused immediately on the legislature with the expectation that legislators would “fix” the problem. There was less discussion of the longer-term causes of the crisis, particularly the failure of existing regulations – a problem that has persisted in this state for many decades. Instead, the prominence of the legislative response meant that the dominant narrative was based on the idea that the problem could be fixed quickly through legislation.
Let’s take a step back and remind ourselves of the factors that contributed to this crisis. They include:
1. Lack of regulation of aboveground storage tanks
2. Weak enforcement of existing regulations, including the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act.
3. An unsafe water system controlled by a holding company that is not interested in investing in West Virginia infrastructure
4. Lack of federal regulation of tens of thousands of chemicals that were grandfathered into the Toxic Substances Control Act
While passage of Senate Bill 423 is a step backwards as regards regulation of tanks, it has nothing to do with any of these other issues that were exposed during the water crisis. And, in fact, slow progress is being made on some other fronts. The Freedom Industries executives have been indicted. And public pressure pushed the Public Service Commission into opening an investigation into WV American Water; Advocates for a Safe Water System is continuing to build pressure on WV American Water to fix its system.
The legislature has proven that they are not going to be much help to us in fixing the problems that led to the water crisis. But there is still plenty to do.