Irresponsible Companies are the Real Job Killers 

Morgantown Dominion Post - Letter to the Editor
20 April 2014

One-sixth of West Virginia residents had their drinking water contaminated by the chemical spill in the Kanawha Valley. The spill exposed vulnerabilities to water systems everywhere in our state, including in Monongalia County.

Was this incident just another episode in the sad saga of West Virginia? No, the happy ending to this story is that the Legislature stepped up to the plate and crafted a strong, bipartisan-supported bill, Senate Bill 373, that protects our drinking water for the future and serves as a model for other states to follow.

SB 373 requires an inventory and yearly inspections of every above-ground storage tank. In addition, it requires registration and inspection of every threat in a “zone of critical concern” near every public water intake.

What many did not realize is that the Freedom Industries site had been reported as one of 51 potential significant contaminant sources in the Kanawha Valley in a federally required report in 2002.

Morgantown Utility Board listed 55 such potential contamination sources in Monongalia County. The 2003 assessment for the Huntington area listed an astonishing 424.

One of the most important parts of SB 373 is the mandate to update those assessments and complete protection plans for drinking water sources.

Protection plans must include plans for emergencies, identification of alternative water sources, evaluation of storage capacity, a public hearing, and a management plan detailing how the utility and the community will prevent future contamination. The public must be included in developing these plans, which must be approved by the state Bureau for Public Health.

Additionally, the inspection and planning are paid for by fees from the affected entities.

Amazingly, SB 373 passed both the House and the Senate unanimously, and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s signature made it the law. One of many who deserve thanks for helping with the bill is Morgantown’s Evan Hansen, from Downstream Strategies.

After the deaths of 29 miners at Upper Big Branch, it was hard to believe anyone would continue saying regulations are “job killers.” With the Freedom spill, once again it was an irresponsible company that was the “job killer, ” not the regulations. Families, businesses and even the reputation of our state suffered substantial damage from the spill.

The lesson we’ve hopefully learned is that clean drinking water is essential to life, and to keep it clean, we need strong laws backed by sufficient funding. Passage of SB 373 is truly worth celebrating.

Barbara Evans Fleischauer
D-Monongalia Morgantown