Legislative column: Studying the issue carefully

This week was a busy week for members of the West Virginia Senate. As many of you are aware, the Charleston/Kanawha area and eight surrounding counties were hugely affected by a chemical spill in early January which tainted the water for users in those nine counties. The Senate quickly went to work debating and discussing a measure to regulate the types of storage tanks which resulted in this spill.

Early this past week, Senate Bill 373 passed the West Virginia Senate unanimously. The legislation requires owners or operators of aboveground storage tanks – similar to those owned by Freedom Industries and other companies throughout the state – to register those tanks with the state and submit to yearly inspections.

Tank owners must also disclose the size of their tanks, the types of liquids those tanks hold, location of the tank and proximity to water. Engineers or other certified inspectors may scrutinize the tanks, but the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) also will inspect tanks that are within 25 miles of a water intake.

Additionally, water providers would need to have contingency plans in place to prevent contamination or notify the public if contamination occurs and identify alternative water sources. They would need to submit source water protection plans to the Bureau for Public Health by July 1, 2015.

The chemical, Crude MCHM, has a licorice-like odor. Many people are still complaining, nearly three weeks later, of their tap water smelling and refuse to drink it. Initial reports said 2,500 gallons of the chemical had seeped into the Elk River, then it rose to 5,000 gallons, then 7,500 but now the DEP is saying as much as 10,000 gallons may have spilled.

I want to make a few things clear however. We don’t simply want to make a bunch of regulations and then have a repeat of what occurred here because that is not acceptable. This isn’t just about the area around Charleston as incidents like this could happen around the state. We want to make sure the regulations on the books now are enforced and loop holes are closed to ensure this can and won’t ever happen again.

We will continue to hear testimony regarding this incident in an effort to learn more about the root cause and how it can be prevented and I am committed to keeping our water, a precious resource, safe and clean for all West Virginians.

If you should have any questions or comments regarding any issues on any other pieces of legislation when they come before the Legislature, please contact me at my Charleston office. My address is: Senator Jack Yost, State Capitol Complex, Building 1, Room 214W, Charleston, WV 25305. My telephone number is (304) 357-7984 and my secretary is Wanda Casto. When calling the toll free number 1-877-565-3447, ask to be transferred. I encourage my constituents to remain active and part of the legislative process. I look forward to hearing from you.

(Yost, a Democrat from Wellsburg, represents the 1st Senatorial District in the West Virginia Legislature)