Judiciary committee approves chemical spill bill

March 3, 2014 by Dave Boucher

After nearly nine  hours of discussion, the House Judiciary Committee officially approved the latest version of a bill crafted in the wake of the recent massive chemical spill. The bill passed by a unanimous voice vote.

DEP Secretary Randy Huffman, committee attorney Robert Williams and Delegate Barbara Fleischuaer, D-Monongalia, talk Sunday evening during a marathon committee meeting.

DEP Secretary Randy Huffman, House Judiciary Committee attorney Robert Smith and Delegate Barbara Fleischauer, D-Monongalia, talk Sunday evening during a marathon meeting about a bill pertaining to the recent massive chemical leak.

The committee discussed more than 60 amendments, but several dominated the majority of discussion. The committee rejected a mandate for public water suppliers to have a secondary intake source, but required West Virginia American Water Co. install upgraded chemical detection equipment at the recently contaminated treatment facility and the state monitor the potential longterm health affects of the spill

Check out a recap of the first four hours of the meeting–which started at about 4:45 p.m. Sunday– at www.dailymailwv.com. 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.┬áRahul 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.

There were other amendments passed, and I’ll try to update the list once I track them down.

Keep in mind, the House Finance Committee still needs to approve the bill before it can go to the full House. The House can suspend ruls so it can fast-tack passage of the changed bill, but many of the failed amendments presented in the committee process could come up again on the House floor.

The Senate still needs to agree to the changes made in the House. If it doesn’t, each chamber must appoint members for a conference committee. The committee will hash out compromises that need approval from each chamber.

Keep in mind, all of this needs to happen before midnight Saturday.



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