The Rivers Coalition said that the Legislature should mandate that the DEP inspect all facilities that hold water pollution permits, and should immediately inspect the most critical sites.
"No one should be surprised that an administration that has done so little to uphold clean water standards would propose such a limited approach," said Angie Rosser, executive director of the Rivers Coalition. "The governor needs to acknowledge the scale and scope of the challenges in protecting our water supplies and lead a complete transformation of the state's attitude and approach to regulation and enforcement."
Evan Hansen, president of the Morgantown-based consulting firm Downstream Strategies and co-author of the Rivers Coalition report, noted that the Freedom Industries site had a storm-water pollution permit from the DEP. That permit gave the DEP broad inspection authority and required the company to submit plans for things like protecting the groundwater.
"The state had the information and authority necessary to significantly reduce the risk of this spill occurring," Hansen said.
During his public appearance Monday, Tomblin repeatedly referred to the Freedom Industries' site as "unregulated."
"It was not regulated, and this bill will address that," Tomblin said.
When asked about the DEP's approval of the site's storm-water permit, and the agency's inspection authority under that permit, Tomblin referred questions to DEP Secretary Randy Huffman.
"I designate this as not being unregulated, but being underregulated," Huffman said.
In an interview, Huffman explained that the storm-water permit in question is a "general permit," a type of pollution authorization that involves far less scrutiny by the DEP than what's called an "individual" permit.
During Monday's news conference, Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, and House Speaker Tim Miley, D-Harrison, addressed the state's near-constant political rhetoric against government regulations.
"There are 300,000 people in nine counties in West Virginia that wish we had a little more regulation," Kessler said.
Miley said, "We need to get beyond the stigma that is attached to regulations." He said that regulations need to be fair and reasonable, but added, "I'd rather save lives than worry about saving a few regulations. Saving lives always has to come first."
Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, noted that he introduced his own legislation last week in response to the leak and said the state's leaders need to remind themselves and other West Virginians that strong rules that protect clean water are a vital economic development tool.
"We need to reinforce it," said Unger, who chairs a special legislative panel on water issues. "One of the things that draws people to West Virginia is quality of life. If we diminish that quality of life, people aren't going to want to come here to live or create jobs."
Prior to the news conference, Tomblin deputy chief of staff Jason Pizatella appeared on the MetroNews radio show "Talkline" and described the governor's approach as a "targeted" and "common sense" set of rules "to make sure something like this never happens again."
"We know accidents do happen, but this legislation will go very, very far in trying to prevent something like this from ever happening again," Pizatella said.
Pizatella also said, though, that the governor is looking for a tightly focused plan, not on broad, sweeping changes in existing state environmental or public health policies.
"This was a hole in our regulations, or a soft spot," Pizatella said. "We're not going to reinvent the wheel here. We're not going to overregulate. We're not going to re-regulate."
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.