Industries lobby portions of W.Va. spill bill

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CHARLESTON, W.Va – Months after state officials approved a law to safeguard against chemical spills, West Virginia industry groups want some requirements delayed and some of their storage tanks shielded from added oversight.


Though the new 95-page law becomes effective next week, stakeholders are still lobbying to shape how aboveground storage tank regulations will apply. The wide-spanning law has a variety of deadlines.


Officials scrambled to craft the protective law when a January spill coincided with their state legislative session. A leaky Freedom Industries tank contaminated the water supply with a little-known coal-cleaning chemical, prompting a water-use ban for 300,000 people for days.


Environmental regulators now have to craft a slew of tank rules, including specifics on inspections, fees, monitoring, reporting and last-resort containment wall requirements.


During the first public comment period this month, business, chemical and energy interests told the Department of Environmental Protection not to rush the process.


The state Chamber of Commerce and Consol Energy Inc. raised concerns about the approaching Oct. 1 deadline to register many aboveground storage tanks.


The state Manufacturers Association, which represents industry heavyweights like Dow Chemical Company, told DEP to require only “visual” inspections for obvious flaws in tanks in the first year. An initial round of tank inspections is required by January 2015.


“There is simply not enough time and enough certified persons to do any more extensive type of inspection at any facility with a large number of tanks,” the association wrote in a May 15 letter to the DEP.


Manufacturers also advised DEP to take a year or longer to create new tank permitting standards, while still requiring annual inspections. FirstEnergy Corp. raised questions about whether one inspection a year is even feasible.


The final law provides a framework for new inspections, registrations, inventories and other regulations on aboveground tanks, with the most stringent rules applying to tanks near water supplies. The law also requires protections for public water systems.


The state’s first draft of rules could be available as early as this summer, said Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman Kelley Gillenwater. Lawmakers then need to approve final rules in the next two-month legislative session, which starts in January.


Environmental groups largely thanked legislators for toughening aboveground tank laws, which officials said were in a regulatory gray area. Environmentalists also cautioned regulators that they need to follow through with tightly written rules.


“WVDEP cannot simply take the word of a permittee, trade association, or lobbyist that facilities are already regulated appropriately,” the West Virginia Rivers Coalition wrote in a May 9 letter to DEP.


Some tanks will already be exempt from new permitting and inspections, based on size, use, overlapping regulation and if they’re deemed harmless. The DEP, however, can classify even more tanks sufficiently regulated.


Many industry interests – oil, natural gas, coal, even agricultural groups storing maple syrup or milk – want to ensure their tanks won’t endure the added round of regulation.


Citizens, however, largely asked the same request of DEP: make the process transparent, avoid loopholes, fund the program sufficiently and keep information public.


West Virginia “has the opportunity to be at the top of the heap for once,” wrote Cindy Ashworth, a Morgantown resident. “Let’s take that opportunity.”


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