Senators Introduce Legislation in Response to West Virginia Water Crisis

UNITED STATES - Jan 14: Sen. Joe Manchin, D-WVA., talks with reporters on the way to the Senate policy luncheons in the U.S. Capitol on January 14, 2014. (Photo By Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES – Jan 14: Sen. Joe Manchin, D-WVA., talks with reporters on the way to the Senate policy luncheons in the U.S. Capitol on January 14, 2014. (Photo By Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call)

In response to the recent water crisis that left over 300,000 West Virginians without water, a group of Senate Democrats have prepared a bill that aims to protect the American people from chemical spills that threaten public drinking water supplies. US Senators Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), and Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) intend to introduce The Chemical Safety and Drinking Water Protection Act of 2014, which includes both prevention of and preparedness for future chemical spills, to Congress when they return from recess this week.

Key principles of the bill include implementing regular state inspections of above-ground chemical storage facilities and requiring the industry to develop state-approved emergency response plans. In addition, the bill would allow states to recoup costs incurred from responding to emergencies.

“No West Virginian or American should have to go through something like this again, and that is why I plan to introduce common sense legislation to make sure all chemicals are appropriately monitored,” Senator Manchin said. “We can work to improve the safety of Americans by ensuring that chemicals are properly managed, while also balancing the positive impact the chemical industry has made to our country.”

Senator Boxer said, “This legislation protects children and families across the nation by providing the tools necessary to help prevent dangerous chemical spills that threaten their drinking water.”

“The fact that there was a lack of regulations which allowed this particular storage facility to go uninspected for so many years is absurd,” Senator Rockefeller said. “I’m encouraged we are taking these steps to bring some accountability to industry that will help protect West Virginia families and our state’s economy.”

The Chemical Safety and Drinking Water Protection Act of 2014 aims to implement the following initiatives:

State Programs: Establish state programs under the Safe Drinking Water Act to oversee and inspect chemical facilities that present a threat to sources of drinking water;

Build on Existing Drinking Water Protection Plans: Direct states to use existing source water protection plans developed under the Safe Drinking Water Act to identify facilities that present a risk to drinking water;

Minimum Federal Standards for State Programs: Establish minimum standards for chemical facilities subject to a state program, including the following:

  • Construction standards;
  • Leak detection and spill and overfill requirements;
  • Emergency response and communications plans;
  • Notification of the EPA, state officials, and public water systems of chemicals that are being stored at a facility.

Minimum Inspection Requirements: Require inspection of these facilities on a regular basis. Facilities identified in drinking water protection plans are inspected every 3 years and all other facilities are inspected every 5 years;

Ensure Drinking Water Systems Have Information: Require information on chemical facilities to be shared with drinking water systems in the same watershed;

Give Drinking Water Systems Tools to Address Emergencies: Allow drinking water systems to act in emergency situations to stop an immediate threat to people who receive drinking water from a public water system;

Ensure States Can Recover Costs for Response: Allow states to recoup costs incurred from responding to emergencies.

The chemical facility that caused the West Virginia water crisis, Freedom Industries, had not been inspected in over 20 years, did not report the spill, and had no emergency response plan in place. Read about the crisis here.

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