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Tomblin to Request Water Safety Legislation

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Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin doesn't want West Virginia to suffer another water emergency like the Jan. 9 chemical leak the Mountain State is still trying to recover from.

A 7,500-gallon leak of crude MCHM from Freedom Industries prompted West Virginia American Water to issue a "do not use" water order for some 300,000 people throughout nine Southern West Virginia counties that lasted several days.

Tomblin joined Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, and House Speaker Tim Miley, D-Harrison, Jan. 20 to outline legislation he hopes would close some of the loopholes that seem to have allowed Freedom Industries to remain relatively unregulated.

Tomblin's proposal would address above-ground storage tanks that currently are unregulated, ensuring all tanks be built and maintained consistent with required safety standards; it also would require all public water systems prepare for emergencies, specifically if a contaminant is discharged in the water supply; and would require the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection to create a regulatory program that would include yearly status reports and would require operators to self-report each tank location as well as any details about construction or maintenance to the tanks.

"This legislation will not duplicate the state and federal regulator efforts already in place," Tomblin said. "It requires a team effort — allowing our DEP to work with our public health officials at the Department of Health and Human Resources to make sure that our zones of critical concern near our waterways remain safe."

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., joined Tomblin during his announcement and Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., issued a statement about Tomblin's proposal.

Both Rockefeller and Manchin are co-sponsoring a bill at the federal level to increase the federal oversight of chemical facilities.

"It's perfectly clear that we should have been better prepared to prevent and respond to a disaster of this magnitude," Rockefeller said. "I'm pleased Gov. Tomblin and leaders in the state Legislature are working to address this gap by proposing important corrections and updates to state law." 

Senate Majority Leader John Unger, D-Berkeley, issued a statement saying he would work within the Senate to see where Tomblin's proposals could complement Senate Bill 373, which was introduced last week and would allow the DEP to register and inspect even more facilities than it currently does.