CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The Tomblin administration is discussing potential plans for a special session where lawmakers could consider pushing back one of the key deadlines contained in the chemical storage tank bill passed in response to the January Elk River leak that contaminated the drinking water supply for 300,000 people across the Kanawha Valley and surrounding region.
Top aides to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin met separately Tuesday with industry lobbyists and citizen group representatives to discuss seeking legislative approval to delay the bill’s requirement for all chemical storage tanks to be certified by Jan. 1, 2015, as meeting certain safety standards.
Industry officials and some legislative leaders have been pushing for that and other changes to the new law, but citizen representatives who took part in Tuesday’s meetings said they emphasized to Tomblin staffers that they are opposed to delaying the current deadlines.
“Public confidence has been shaken by the Freedom Industries spill and this is going to perpetuate the thinking that the state hasn’t gotten its act together and can’t meet the deadlines,” said Angie Rosser, executive director of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition.
Rosser was among a small group of citizen representatives called to the Governor’s Office for a Tuesday meeting that included gubernatorial chief of staff Charlie Lorensen, communications director Chris Stadelman and Environmental Protection Secretary Randy Huffman to discuss the state’s implementation of SB 373. The bill creates a new regulatory program for above-ground chemical storage tanks and sets new mandates for public drinking water systems to protect their source water.
After the meetings, Stadelman said that a special session “is one possibility” but that the administration is considering other options to address concerns about the deadline and that “no decision has been made.” Stadelman said the governor is unlikely to call a special session unless legislative leaders agree to the agenda beforehand, and that Tomblin would be supportive only of “very narrow” changes, not major modifications in the new law.
Earlier Tuesday, Huffman said he was personally supportive of a special session that would push back the Jan. 1 deadline for tank owners and operators to have tanks inspected and certified and have reports of those certifications filed with the Department of Environmental Protection.
Huffman noted that his agency has yet to make public a draft of the proposed standards for safety and integrity of chemical storage tanks, making it difficult for tank owners and operators to know what standards their tanks have to meet. Huffman said pushing back the Jan. 1 deadline would give more time for lawmakers to consider other industry concerns about the legislation during the 2015 regular session.
DEP staffers have been working hard to complete a proposed rule, Huffman said, but are also trying to build in additional time for more public review and comment before a final version is written.
“From a regulator’s standpoint, it’s not a practical deadline,” Huffman said of the Jan. 1 certification mandate. “The politics of it aside, it’s a logistical issue.”
Previously, the DEP had issued “interim guidance” for the initial storage tank inspections and certification. That guidance said that for the certification due on or before Jan. 1, 2015, “compliance with a nationally recognized tank standard” such as the American Petroleum Institute or the Steel Tank Institute “shall be deemed compliance with the requirements.”
Subsequent annual certifications “will be required to comply fully with legislative rules promulgated by” the DEP, the agency guidance said. On its website, the DEP published a checklist for tank inspections and a form to be used in filing tank certifications with the agency.
Industry groups have complained about the Jan. 1 deadline but have also offered solutions that stopped short of legislation to change that deadline.
In a May letter to the DEP, for example, the West Virginia Manufacturers Association said the deadline “allows insufficient time to complete any sort of extensive inspection for tanks.” The group urged the DEP to consider a visual inspection of tanks and any associated leak containment systems “for obvious structural problems” to be adequate until the agency’s rules are written.
“There is simply not enough time and not enough certified persons to do any more extensive type of inspection at any facility with a large number of tanks,” said the manufacturers association letter. “In future years, the annual inspection should be such as is required by the industry standard that is designed for that tank. To the extent that there is no industry standard that applies, a visual inspection would be reasonable.”
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