CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- As hundreds of thousands of West Virginians enter their seventh day without usable water, the state's congressional delegation is calling for action, but generally not abandoning the pro-industry tone that often dominates Mountain State politics.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said he would move to reintroduce a stalled bill that would reform the way the nation regulates hazardous chemicals, such as the 4-methylcyclohexanemethanol that leaked into the Elk River last week.
Reps. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., both said they would call on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to hold a full hearing in Charleston to discuss the leak. Rahall, the ranking Democrat on the committee, said he had spoken with committee Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pa., and he thought the Charleston hearing was "very likely" to happen.
But in phone interviews Tuesday, all three lawmakers took pains to distance the chemical that spilled -- which is used to process coal -- from the state's coal industry.
"When you're mining the coal, to the residuals of coal, everything has to be done in the safest manner possible," Manchin said. "I don't anticipate anything [legislation] directly related to coal ... . Whether it's coal or chemicals or fertilizer or food products, it should be under the same scenario.
Capito said Southern West Virginia was still under "great pressures to discontinue the use and mining" of coal and that she would not halt her calls for the Environmental Protection Agency to ease back on environmental regulations.
"The incident that happened with this spill is not related to my view of the EPA, of overreaching and not looking at economics and trying to reach a balance in the energy industries," Capito said. "I see this as a chemical issue, and so the coal issue is secondary. It's a product used in the coal industry."
Rahall also said he would not change his stance on environmental regulations.
Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., did not respond to an interview request, although his spokesman sent a statement saying safety needed to take top priority and people should not jump to any conclusions.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., also did not respond to an interview request, but sent a statement calling the lack of inspection of Freedom Industries, the company where the chemical leaked, unacceptable and disturbing.
"I often hear complaints that regulations are too costly or that industries should be allowed to regulate themselves," he wrote. "Clearly this approach has failed hundreds of thousands of West Virginians."
Rockefeller has, in the days since the spill, pushed for more involvement from federal agencies. Two days after the leak he requested that the federal Chemical Safety Board investigate the leak. A team from the CSB arrived on the site on Monday.
The CSB has been in West Virginia several times in the last few years, specifically after fatal chemical-related incidents at the Bayer CropScience plant in Institute and the DuPont Co. plant in Belle.
After both of those incidents, the CSB recommended that the state Department of Health and Human Resources assist the local health department in creating a chemical accident prevention plan that would inspect facilities and require those facilities to have plans in place to prevent accidents.
Those recommendations have not been taken up.
On Tuesday, only Capito was willing to say without reservation that the state should adopt the CSB's recommendation.
"I hope the state adopts an immediate report protocol that's been recommended by the CSB," she said. "We could have saved ourselves a lot of time if we'd known how to test for it, if we'd known it was there, if it had been reported quickly."
Manchin said that he'd like to look for consensus before embracing the CSB's recommendations.
"The pushback that's in a lot of people from the industry, and a lot of different groups crisscrossing America, believe that that was an overreach, or whatever, either that was too stringent or an overreach, or things they couldn't comply with," he said.
Rahall said he would like to wait for the current CSB investigation to conclude. He said that the previous recommendations could potentially be used as a "building block."
He noted that the two deaths at Bayer came from an explosion and a fire and that the death at DuPont came from a phosgene gas leak, while the current water crisis is the result of a chemical leak.
"There are also differences that indicate that a one-size-fits-all solution might not be effective," he said.
Also on Tuesday, Rockefeller sent a letter to the administrator of the EPA and the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention requesting a study of long-term health risks associated with the spill.