House committee advances "water bill" - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

WV House Judiciary Committee advances Senate Bill 373, 'water bill'

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After more than 50 amendments and 10 hours of discussion, members of the West Virginia House of Delegates Judiciary Committee passed their version of Senate Bill 373 to the House Finance committee.

The judiciary committee met March 2 to discuss and amend the bill into the wee hours of March 3.

Senate Bill 373 was first introduced by Senate Majority Leader John Unger, D-Berkeley, Jan. 16. The bill was in response to the Jan. 9 chemical leak that left 300,000 people without safe, clean drinking tap water after crude MCHM spilled into the Elk River.

One amendment to the bill that was adopted by the committee was sponsored by Delegates Meshea Poore, D-Kanawha and John McCuskey, R-Kanawha. The amendment calls on long-term medical monitoring by the Bureau for Public Health.

On Feb. 14, Unger said he was calling on Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to set up a medical monitoring program and use money from one of the two Rainy Day Funds to fund the program. Unger said it would be presented through Senate Bill 626, Elk River Spill Victims' Compensation Act of 2014. The bill was sent to the Senate Natural Resources Committee on Feb. 17 after being introduced in the Senate on the same day.

Unger said such a program would cost about $10 million and last 10 years. Poore said the study would be discussed by the legislative rules committee to see how long it should last and how it would be implemented, funded.

Another proposed amendment would have required the Department of Environmental Protection, among other agencies, to offer a third level of protection when transferring a chemical. 

DEP Cabinet Secretary Randy Huffman said that particular provision would not only have been inconvenient but also impossible, because no such designs were available when transferring chemicals from trains and barges. The amendment was rejected.

An amendment requiring "simplifying signage" for above-ground storage tanks was adopted. Tanks currently are marked explaining the level of danger of the chemicals inside them. However, delegates said the signs could mix chemicals there is little information on, such as crude MCHM, with others the public are more knowledgeable about.

Delegate Mike Manypenny, D-Taylor, wanted to amend the bill to provide internal inspections of above-ground storage tanks within five years and then every 10 years after that. A representative for DuPont said the amendment could be harmful to employees who would have to empty the tanks of the chemicals for the inspection. 

Manypenny argued since water tanks are inspected every five years, chemical tanks should be as well. The DuPont representative said because some chemicals are not corrosive, such as oil, but water is, so the inspections would be unnecessary and would have to be regulated by what chemical a tank is actually holding. The amendment was rejected.

Another amendment that was rejected would have required West Virginia American Water to close its intake after learning the harmful chemical was in the water. 

President of WVAW, Jeff McIntyre, had said it was "unsanitary" and simply "unsafe" because of lack of firefighting ability with no water in the pipes to shut off the intake. The amendment was rejected by the committee after McIntyre spoke against it.

The bill moves on to the House Finance committee before being sent to the House floor and back to the Senate for approval.

Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, said March 3 the Senate leadership members won't be surprised with how the water bill has been changed in the House of Delegates.

"I compliment them on their effort, they worked very hard," Kessler said of the House Judiciary committee members. "From what I've heard, a lot of the amendments are good additions."

Kessler said the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha, is following the amendments to the bill along with his team.

"We're going to get good things done," Kessler said.

Movement among lawmakers requesting a special session during the week they work on the budget has been shot down by both Kessler and Speaker of the House Tim Miley, D-Harrison.