It's good that Gov. Tomblin finally, reluctantly, agreed for state inspectors to check water in West Virginia homes, to learn whether families are drinking toxins from the disastrous Elk River chemical spill.
Thank heaven he acknowledged state residents -- individual householders, sometimes known as voters, or taxpayers -- instead of just representatives of polluters.
In January, when Tomblin scheduled a "stakeholders" meeting to go over his proposed legislation to regulate aboveground chemical storage tanks, he invited only lawyers and lobbyists for the oil and gas industry, the coal industry and a few other select trade associations.
Freedom Industries poisoned the water of 300,000 people. While all of those people could not constructively gather in a room with the governor to advise him on his bill, their representatives certainly could.
Logical representatives of the people's interests in this case would be reputable environmental groups, who have advocated for water quality protection for years. The people's representatives might include dutiful public health officials, or well-informed local elected leaders and first responders.
Yet, those groups were not invited to the "stakeholders" meeting.
Instead, it was a business-as-usual meeting for polluters. And how did the industry insiders like the governor's bill? As Gazette reporter Ken Ward Jr. found:
• Kurt Dettinger, Tomblin's former general counsel and now a lawyer for Steptoe & Johnson, had input. Dettinger is registered as a lobbyist for natural gas producer Antero Resources and Braskem/Odebrecht, the company proposing to build a natural gas "cracker" plant in Wood County.
• David Flannery, another Steptoe & Johnson lawyer, suggested the bill include an option of civil fines -- not just criminal penalties -- for violations of chemical tank requirements. The governor's bill had increased criminal penalties, but they were reduced to levels Flannery suggested in a version passed by the state Senate.
• Rebecca Randolph, president of the West Virginia Manufacturers Association, proposed 18 exemptions to the bill. The governor did not accept Randolph's exact wording, but did include a long list of storage tanks that would be exempt.
Longtime Sierra Club leader Jim Kotcon summed it up best: "Who are we listening to? If you want a bill that protects clean water, you should probably listen to people who advocate for clean water, not the polluters."Cowing too much, too often to polluting industries that want soft regulations and negligible enforcement is how West Virginia's capital city and surrounding neighbors got into this mess. It's time to ask someone else for advice.