CHARLESTON, W.Va. --Problems with a variety of federal programs -- from drinking-water laws to emergency-response planning to toxic-chemical regulations -- contributed to the Jan. 9 Elk River chemical leak, lawmakers in Washington were told Tuesday.
Separate congressional committees heard testimony about threats to public drinking-water supplies and about longstanding weaknesses in the federal law that governs toxic-chemical safety.
"The West Virginia incident highlights the many holes we have in current federal environmental laws," said Erik Olson, senior director for health and food at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Olson was among those who testified before an Environment and Public Works subcommittee, where legislation is being considered to toughen chemical storage-tank rules and rewrite the troubled Toxic Substances Control Act, or TSCA.
In his testimony, he praised the chemical tank bill proposed by committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Sens. Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin, both D-W.Va.
However, Olson joined Boxer in expressing concern about the TSCA reform legislation that Manchin has been trying to work out with Senate Republicans and which Manchin lauds as a compromise.
Also in the Senate, West Virginia political leaders turned out in force to testify about the chemical leak.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., for example, made it clear that he believes one of the problems that led to the Freedom Industries leak is a long-time lack of tough environmental enforcement by the state.
"Industry does it all the time and gets away with it," Rockefeller said. "They will cut corners and they will get away with it. Regulation is soft in West Virginia. It's always been soft."
Manchin, speaking in an interview after appearing before the committee, said the chemical leak hasn't made him rethink his harsh criticism of the Obama administration's policies on coal-mining issues. Manchin said some people misunderstood his comments to The New York Times, in which he said West Virginia has always done the nation's "heavy lifting" by mining coal and making chemicals.