Maybe Some Small Reforms?

01.14.14

The Charleston Water Saga

Some drinking water is safe in West Virginia. But will anything change now?

You can drink the water again in downtown Charleston and some outlying areas, but still not in large portions of the affected area extending into several counties. Here's a map.

You've probably read by now that the Freedom Industries facility that was the source of the spill had not been inspected by anyone since 1991. Today's Charleston Daily Mail (yes, Charleston has two newspapers, and more surprisingly still, they're both very good, though the Gazette's editorial page is more to my liking) has an excellent article from Capitol bureau chief Dave Boucher about why the state's Department of Environmental Protection has never had any jurisdiction over the plant and whether that might change.

The DEP has authority only over manufacturing or emission sites, not mere storage sites, as this one is. The DEP doesn't even know how many facilities there might be in the state like this Freedom Industries storage site, which housed 4 million gallons of the chemical. An inventory will reportedly get underway here in the near future.

Reports of inventoried chemicals are, under the state's Community Right to Know Act, supposed to be filed with the state's division of homeland security and emergency management. Boucher's report doesn't indicate explicitly whether Freedom has filed the appropriate paperwork but nevertheless suggests that it wouldn't matter because the paperwork required of facilities that store "hazardous" materials is so vague as to be meaningless.

There's a higher standard under state law for facilities that store "extremely hazardous" chemicals, but Freedom's storage facility did not meet that standard.

Then there's the question of why this 4-million gallon chemical-storage facility was located just a mile and a half from a water-intake plant, along the same river. The agency is looking at "set back" regulations (not legislation, apparently, but new regulations) that would require more space between two such facilities.

Hopefully, there will be changes. There can't be much sympathy in the Kanawha Valley air for Gary Southern, that doofus Freedom Industries president who behaved so arrogantly and stupidly at last week's press conference, complaining about what a long day it had been for him (!) and trying to cut the news conference short while taking luxurious sips out of an Aquafina bottle of the sort many West Virginians were having trouble finding on empty store shelves that day.

But if you're looking for some big change in the coal culture, friend, don't look here. That would take something far more cataclysmic than this. Although Ken Ward, who writes the Coal Tattoo blog for the Gazette, notes that Governor Earl Tomblin softened his harsh anti-EPA rhetoric in this year's State of the State Address, although Ward doesn't say what we should make of that. Earlier, Ward had reported that the legislature's Democrats want to create a new standing committee on energy.It's to be headed by a legislator who is the vice-president for business development for something called Natural Resource Partners, which is a Texas-based company that manages mineral resource properties and collects royalties from mine owners.

And that's the idea from the Democrats.