CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia's top environmental regulator said Friday his agency needs more authority over all above-ground chemical storage tanks in the state -- regardless of whether the tanks are covered by industry-proposed exemptions in a bill making its way through the Legislature.
Randy Huffman, secretary of the state Department of Environmental Protection, said he hopes lawmakers will amend the bill to give the DEP authority to make all storage tanks comply with structural-integrity standards the agency will design.
Huffman made his comments after a House Judiciary Committee hearing in which lawmakers grilled a contingent of DEP staffers about a list of more than 20 exemptions to the bill's new permit requirements.
"It doesn't do any good to exempt the tanks from having to meet the integrity standards if the tanks pose the same kinds of risks as the tanks at Freedom Industries," Huffman said in an interview.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin called for passage of an above-ground storage tank safety law after the Jan. 9 leak of the coal-cleaning chemical Crude MCHM, which contaminated the Elk River drinking-water supply that serves 300,000 West Virginians.
Under the bill, the DEP would write tank safety standards and owners of tanks would have to obtain new permits from the agency and meet those safety standards. As currently written, though, broad categories of tanks -- including those at coal-mining operations and natural gas production sites -- are exempt from the permit requirements and safety standards.
The list of exemptions included in the governor's bill and a Senate-passed version now pending in the House Judiciary are similar to a list proposed to the DEP in an email message from the West Virginia Manufacturers Association.
The industry group submitted the list after a private, industry-only meeting with Tomblin administration officials held the day before the governor's bill was made public.
DEP general counsel Kristin Boggs forwarded the industry group's exemption suggestions to Peter Markham, Tomblin's counsel. When the Governor's Office released Boggs' email to Markham under the Freedom of Information Act, it withheld whatever comments Boggs made about the exemptions.