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GOP leader urges caution on tank law changes

By Ken Ward Jr., Staff writer

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — House Minority Leader Tim Armstead on Tuesday said Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin should take a cautious approach when considering calling a special session to make changes to the chemical tank safety bill passed after January’s water crisis in the Kanawha Valley.

Armstead, R-Kanawha, said House Republicans discussed the matter at a party caucus during last week’s interim meetings, and most members were wary of proposals to simply push back a deadline for above-ground storage tank owners to have their tanks inspected and certified.

“There was concern that if we simply put the deadline off, there might be another incident that was something we could have prevented,” Armstead said.

House Speaker Tim Miley, D-Harrison, and Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, have already called on Tomblin to schedule a special session this month to seek legislative approval to delay the bill’s requirement for all chemical storage tanks to be certified by Jan. 1, 2015, as meeting certain safety standards.

Tomblin has not made a decision on the issue yet and had asked Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Randy Huffman to keep working with industry and citizen groups to try to find a solution that would not require immediate legislative action.

Armstead said House Republicans are concerned that the legislation is too broad, in that it includes smaller storage tanks that are located in isolated areas, far from drinking water intakes, or contain materials that are not harmful. He said lawmakers need to “take a second look” at the scope of the new law.

But, Armstead noted, all tank owners and operators are required to register their above-ground storage tanks with the DEP by Oct. 1. Those registrations should provide valuable data about tank size, location and contents that would help lawmakers make better decisions about what changes to make, Armstead said. Armstead discussed his party’s views on the issue initially on the West Virginia MetroNews show “Talkline” and then in an interview with the Gazette.

Under the new law, which took effect in early June, chemical tank owners and operators were given until Jan. 1 to have all of their tanks inspected and certified as meeting minimum safety standards.

In recent weeks, industry officials and some legislators have complained that it’s unreasonable to expect tanks to be certified by the Jan. 1 deadline because the DEP has yet to issue even a draft of the rule spelling out the standards that would apply to the tanks.

Shortly after the law took effect, DEP officials published “interim guidance” for the initial storage tank inspections and certification. That guidance said that for the certification due on or before Jan. 1, “compliance with a nationally recognized tank standard,” such as those from the American Petroleum Institute or the Steel Tank Institute, “shall be deemed compliance with the requirements.”

Subsequent annual certifications “will be required to comply fully with legislative rules promulgated by” the DEP, the agency guidance said. On its website, the DEP published a checklist for tank inspections and a form to be used in filing tank certifications with the agency.

Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kward@wvgazette.com, 304-348-1702 or follow @kenwardjr on Twitter.


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