Tank regulation bill becomes law

Bob Wojcieszak/Daily Mail Surrounded by state lawmakers, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin is congratulated after signing the "spill bill" Tuesday at the state Capitol.
Bob Wojcieszak/Daily Mail Surrounded by state lawmakers, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin is congratulated after signing the "spill bill" Tuesday at the state Capitol.

Legislation to regulate aboveground storage tanks is now law.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin on Tuesday signed Senate Bill 373, commonly referred to as the ‘spill bill.’ The bill was introduced just days after the massive Jan. 9 chemical leak that contaminated West Virginia American Water’s supply and affected 300,000 West Virginians.

Under the law, aboveground storage tanks in zones of critical concern -- those near a water intake -- to be registered with the state Department of Environmental Protection. The agency and independent engineers will be responsible for annual inspections of those tanks. The state Bureau for Public Health is required to work with federal agencies to gather medical information to assess potential long-term health affects associated with the spill. West Virginia American Water also will be required to install an early monitoring system at its Elk River plant, and all water utilities must have a written source water protection plan to prepare for emergency situations, specifically water contamination.

“The past three months have been among my most challenging in 40 years in public service,” Tomblin said. “No one could have anticipated the far-reaching impact the Elk River chemical spill would have on the 300,000 West Virginians in the nine-county affected area. It was an unprecedented disaster, not just within our communities, but across our state and across our nation.”

Senate Majority Leader John Unger, D-Berkeley, introduced the bill Jan. 16. It went through two committees before passing the full Senate on Jan. 28. The House of Delegates then received the bill, and a small controversy broke out when Speaker Tim Miley, D-Harrison, referred the bill to three committees. That move is often perceived as the kiss of death on any legislation, but Miley argued he wanted to make sure the bill was throughly examined before passage.

“The House took what was legislation to regulate aboveground storage tanks and really reworked it through three House committees, which was initially criticized, but I think now the bill you have before you ... is one that was a wise decision at the time, certainly with the benefit of hindsight,” Miley said.

Unger agreed, saying the bill got “progressively better” as it moved through the House committees. The bill actually passed both chambers twice, as they each amended the bill after the initial passage. Unger said he can’t recall that happening in his 16 years as a lawmaker.

“I want to say this, I believe, is truly an example of the legislative process working,” Unger said. “When people put aside their partisanship, put aside their self-interest or special interest and actually focus on the public interest -- this is an example of good legislation being passed with all branches of government working together.”

Unger said no matter how hard the Legislature and governor’s office worked on the bill, it’s the public and the media who deserve thanks in making sure the bill passed.

“If it weren’t for you, this thing would not have passed,” he said. “I’m positive of that. The magnitude of this piece of legislation and what went into it -- it kept all of us, the legislators, the governor, the governor’s office honest and focused on the public interest versus other interests.”

Contact writer Whitney Burdette at 304-348-7939 or whitney.burdette@dailymailwv.com. Follow her at www.Twitter.com/wburdette_DM.

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