Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

January 30, 2014

Water safety: Federal, state measures necessary

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— — After a troubling chemical spill left more than 300,000 in the Mountain State without water earlier this month, there was a renewed push by both state and federal lawmakers to strengthen the ability of the states to prevent future chemical spills like the Jan. 9 disaster.

These measures are not only prudent, but also necessary to help prevent such a future catastrophe.

A good example would be the Chemical Safety and Drinking Water Protection Act of 2014, a measure that was jointly introduced earlier this week by U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who serves as chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.

The common-sense proposal seeks to gather into one place the tools necessary to provide oversight of chemical facilities. The three lawmakers say the measure is designed to ensure industrial facilities are properly inspected by state officials and that both the chemical industry and emergency response agencies are prepared for future chemical incidents or emergencies.

The federal measure specifically would:

• Require regular state inspections of above-ground chemical storage facilities.

• Require industry to develop state-approved emergency response plans that meet at least minimum guidelines established in the bill.

• Allow states to recoup costs incurred from responding to emergencies.

• Ensure drinking water systems have the tools and information to respond to emergencies.

In essence, the federal bill would strengthen the ability of the individual states to prevent future chemical spills and related disasters.

Also earlier this week, the West Virginia Senate voted for stronger regulations on above-ground storage tanks. Senate Bill 373 introduced by Majority Leader John Unger, D-Berkeley, would require registrations and annual inspections for most surface-level tanks storing fluids. And tanks within 25 miles upstream of a water supply source also would be more closely monitored under the proposed state law, the Associated Press reported.

Both the state and federal measures are necessary. Although the Jan. 9 chemical spill was contained to a nine-county region, more than 300,000 were impacted, and the incident prompted concern across the Mountain State and the nation.

It is clear that we must take steps today to prevent such a future disaster. And it is only prudent to ensure that all chemicals stored in the states are appropriately monitored to ensure the safety of the water that we consume every day.

Both the state and federal measures merit prompt approval.