CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin on Monday revealed some details of an above-ground storage tank regulatory bill, outlining an approach that environmental groups called far too narrow to address issues raised by the Jan. 9 chemical leak that contaminated the water supply serving 300,000 West Virginians.
Tomblin said his bill would give the state Department of Environmental Protection "the tools necessary" to prevent another similar incident at what the DEP estimates are more than 1,000 storage tank sites around the state.
"Make no mistake: The discharge of chemical or other contaminants is unacceptable, and neither I nor anyone else standing here will tolerate it," Tomblin said, flanked at a news conference by Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and state Democratic legislative leaders.
Officials said Tomblin's bill would require safety standards for above-ground storage tanks, force public water systems to prepare for similar emergencies, and mandate that tank-farm operators hire an engineer to inspect their facilities annually.
"This proposed legislation includes reasonable, common sense provisions to regulate above-ground storage tanks across the state including those located in areas of critical concern near our public water supply and distribution systems," the governor said in a prepared statement.
While the governor was holding his news conference in Charleston, a statewide group released its own report with recommendations on what the state should do in the wake of the Freedom Industries' leak.
The West Virginia Rivers Coalition called on lawmakers to force state regulators to beef up inspections and permit requirements, update threat assessments for drinking water supplies and change the state's political tone and end the frequent anti-regulatory rhetoric.
"The vigor with which elected officials, agency heads and members of the Legislature seek to protect human health and the environment underlies the findings of this report," the group said.
"In recent years, the tone of many of our state leaders has been clear -- too much regulation and too much involvement by the United States Environmental Protection Agency," the coalition said. "Any serious recognition of the link between protecting the environment and promoting a healthy, diversified economy is often lost."
The Rivers Coalition report focuses on improvements to state implementation of three key laws:
The approach recommended by the Rivers Coalition is more broad and stringent than the steps announced by the governor.
For example, the Tomblin plan would not mandate DEP inspections of tank-farm facilities, instead leaving that task to company-hired engineers who would certify the operations meet state standards.