Editorial: The state can handle chemical spill regulation

In government, for each and every adverse action, there is an over-reaction. Sadly, a good case in point is Freedom Industries leaking thousands of gallons of water into the Elk River on Jan. 9. This leak shut down the water supply of 300,000 people for five days or longer.

West Virginians took care of a West Virginia problem.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin declared a state of emergency, the National Guard and thousands of volunteers passed out millions of gallons of bottled water, and the Legislature passed a law to regulate above-ground chemical storage tanks.

Now that things are under control, enter Congress to turn a local problem into a bureaucratic jumble. At the urging of Sens. Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works passed new legislation to have the federal government regulate above-ground chemical tanks.

This well-intended action is not only redundant, but potentially dangerous. Putting two or more governmental agencies in charge of something means no one is really responsible.

Consider the fertilizer plant that exploded in West, Texas, almost one year ago. The explosion killed 13 people, injured 160 others and damaged or leveled 150 buildings.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration had not inspected in 28 years. The state and federal governments were like outfielders yielding to one another until the ball falls to the ground for a hit, not an out.

Except in their case, 13 people died.

Instead of having the federal government duplicate the efforts of West Virginia state government to regulate these tanks, Sens. Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin should push to have the federal government determine what the safe level of the various chemicals that are in those tanks.

Having the 50 states inspect the storage tanks in their bailiwicks makes sense. Having 50 states determine what is the safe level of 100,000 or more chemicals does not make sense.

In this crisis, the state of West Virginia handled its responsibilities and duties reasonably well, albeit with several hiccups. It would have been helpful if, early on, state officials could have determined just how much crude MCHM is safe.

The better action for Congress would be to assist the states instead of creating confusion by trying to take over a state responsibility.

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