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Despite rhetoric, Manchin says he can work with EPA on tank rules

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Five days ago, Sen. Joe Manchin was at an industry-sponsored event in Washington, D.C., promising to fight against new Environmental Protection Agency coal regulations.

On Monday, Manchin was at the state Capitol in Charleston, promising to "work together" with the same agency  -- this time on legislation designed to prevent another chemical spill like the one that left more than 300,000 West Virginia with usable water.

Manchin said there was nothing contradictory about criticizing the EPA one day, and working with the agency the next.

"This is preventive [clean water] legislation," Manchin said. "The only thing I continue to be at odds with the EPA is if you don't have proven technology, if you don't have a limit or any types of things that we can meet, or that you can show has been done commercially, then why are you asking for pie in the sky?"

Last Friday, Manchin announced he was co-sponsoring legislation to regulate above-ground chemical storage tanks similar to the one that leaked 7,500 gallons of "Crude MCHM" into the Elk River on Jan. 8.

"This is pretty simple: We should be evaluating everything that's on the waterways," Manchin said Monday before a press conference at the Capitol.

 "I want to work with the EPA," he said. "I want to work for reasonable legislation. We should all be working together."

A Sunday front-page New York Times story about West Virginia's water crisis noted Manchin's long history of opposing the EPA. The newspaper also cited the senator's most recent criticism of the EPA -- on Wednesday, six days after the Freedom Industries spill of a coal-processing chemical into the Elk River -- during an appearance at an event sponsored by the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity in Washington.

Manchin later told the Times: "Coal and chemicals inevitably bring risk -- but that doesn't mean they should be shut down."

The senator said Monday that he stayed in Washington last week so he could "coordinate" with the EPA on West Virginia's chemical spill and "do-not-use" water order. He said he and his staff also worked closely with officials at the White House, FEMA, U.S. Department of Homeland Security and National Guard.

"The governor was here," Manchin said. "He was on top of that. He was doing a good job."

Manchin said he believes water processed by West Virginia American Water's Charleston treatment plant is now safe to drink.

"I drank the water. I'm using the water," he said Monday afternoon. "If you don't feel comfortable [drinking the water], then don't. I feel comfortable."

Manchin said the company responsible for the chemical spill, Freedom Industries, would be held accountable. He said Freedom's recent bankruptcy filing and "corporate shell games" wouldn't shield the company from penalties.

"There's no protection from something like this," Manchin said.

The senator said public officials have taken a "cautious approach" to ensure the water is safe to drink.

"With that being said, we will get back to normal life," Manchin said. "We will."

Reach Eric Eyre at ericeyre@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4869.


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