Sustained Outrage

PSC continues to narrow chemical spill inquiry

Coal Water Pollution

West Virginia American Water Company’s request to further delay the state Public Service Commission’s chemical spill investigation wasn’t the only new filing in the last few days in that commission case. Also just made public is a new PSC order, which indicates clearly again the commission’s intent on keeping this inquiry as narrow as possible.

The new order, posted here, rejects another effort by the group Advocates for a Safe Water System to reopen discovery — the process of legal investigation in the case — prior to the currently schedule PSC hearings in mid-November.

Among other things, the Advocates hoped to reopen discovery so they could pursue more answers to questions raised by recent disclosures in the federal court case over the water crisis — including some remarkable documents that we’ve covered in the Gazette-Mail about the water company’s decision not to close its Elk River drinking water intake in the hours after the spill.

The PSC, though, wasn’t having any of it:

The fact that the parties to this general investigation and the parties to the federal cases examined some of the same subject matter but chose to develop the evidence differently, is largely reflective of the different roles of the two tribunals and the different legal standards governing the respective proceedings. Thus, while ASWS may utilize pertinent information from any source (including the federal cases) for any proper purpose during the evidentiary hearing in this proceeding, the fact that information developed outside this investigation may not be identical to what the parties developed here simply does not justify a wholesale re-opening of discovery, on the grounds that it is “new information” or otherwise.

Meanwhile, another fascinating filing in the PSC case came last week, from the commission’s own Consumer Advocate Division.  In this filing, the consumer advocate wants West Virginia American to either admit or deny that certain records — such as the company’s assessment of the vulnerabilities of its Elk River plant — never mentioned the Freedom Industries site as a potential threat to the water company’s drinking water supply.

If the water company won’t admit this, the consumer advocate wants West Virginia American to “fully explain” its response, and identify a witness who can testify about the matter.