Water Resource Protection bill passes first reading in Senate - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

Water Resource Protection bill advances in WV Senate

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The water resource protection and regulation bill sponsored by Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, seems poised to pass, but not right away.

Senate Bill 373, which relates to water resource protection and the regulation of above-ground storage tanks passed through its first reading in the West Virginia Senate Jan. 24 after members of the Senate Judiciary Committee hammered away at it for a few hours the night before.

The bill is scheduled to be read a second time Monday, Jan. 27. The bill was amended in the Senate Judiciary Committee, so if and when it passes the full Senate, the House of Delegates will have to debate the amended bill and vote on it again.

Unger said he is pleased the bill is progressing.

Sen. David Nohe, R-Wood, said he was concerned with the amount of time legislators were given to review the contents of the bill. However, Nohe said he would be for such legislation. 

Sen. Chris Walters, R-Putnam, said he was in favor of the legislation but agreed legislators should take more time to perfect the language of the bill. He also suggested dividing the bill to separate water quality and water quantity regulations and creating two separate bills.

Original Story:

A bill set to regulate inspections of above-ground storage tanks has cleared two Senate committees.

Senate Bill 373, relating to water resources protection, cleared the two Senate committees it was referred to after the original bill was introduced to the Senate last week by Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley.

Senate President Jeffrey Kessler, D-Marshall, is a co-sponsor for the bill.

On Wednesday, Jan. 22, the Senate Natural Resources Committee passed a committee substitute for the bill, aimed at requiring the consistent regulation and inspection of some above-ground storage tanks that hold more than 1,000 gallons. 

The West Virginia Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously passed the bill Thursday, Jan. 23.

Several senators took issue with the bill, including Sen. Chris Walters, R-Putnam. Walters did not vote against the bill but did want to make an amendment clarifying industrial businesses that could potentially be exempt from the regulations.

However, the committee voted against his amendment.

Unger spoke after the committee hearing about the passage of the bill.

He said its passage showed the importance of the state's water resources.

"I think the importance of protecting our water resources is essential," Unger said. "I was concerned about the obstructionists of this but I think they're scared of the people."

Unger said while he is concerned with some of the senators who were trying to obstruct the bill, he believes it is the best piece of legislation for West Virginians and has time to continue to grow as it goes through the floor session of the Senate and into the House of Delegates next week.

"Ultimately we're here for the people and the people will prevail," he added.

Unger praised his fellow senators including Sen. Sam Cann, D-Harrison, Sen. Gregory Tucker, D-Nicholas, and Sen. Herb Snyder, D-Jefferson.

"Sen. Cann was articulate; Sen. Tucker, Sen. Snyder, they were all very articulate in this process," Unger said.

Unger said the amendments that didn't pass during the committee meeting were meant to "weaken" the legislation and exempt certain entities from having a water protection plan. Unger said he didn't believe those approaches were "right," saying everyone should have access to clean, safe, drinking water.

Sen. Bill Cole, R-Mercer, said during the committee meeting the lawmakers were "ramming" the legislation down the people's throats.

Unger took issue with that comment.

"Sen. Cole said we're ramming this regulation down people's throats, well I wonder about the 300,000 people in this valley that had this polluted water rammed down their throats," Unger said. "I found that insulting."

Also during the committee meeting Sen. Evan Jenkins, R-Cabell, tried to delay the bill one day. The committee took a vote with a 12-5 result, passing the bill with amendments before the meeting was over Thursday evening.