In response to a chemical spill that left more than 300,000 West Virginia residents without tap water, the state's U.S. senators are introducing legislation to tighten oversight of chemical facilities, which they say will better protect drinking water facilities from such spills.
Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin and Jay Rockefeller worked out legislative language last week working with Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Environment and Public Works Committee chairwoman. and will introduce the bill.
The "Chemical Safety and Drinking Water Protection Act" would set up state programs under the Safe Drinking Water Act for regulators to oversee and inspect chemical facilities near drinking water sources. “Those facilities would have to meet certain construction standards and leak detection requirements and establish emergency response plans. States would also have to inspect those facilities near water every three years, while other chemical storage plants would be inspected every five years,” according to a report from Jason Plautz of E&E news service.
As part of the bill, facility operators would also have to notify public water systems of any chemicals being stored at a site and share other information. States would also be allowed to recoup costs from responding to emergencies associated with chemical spills.
The bill is in response to a leak of the chemical 4-methylcyclohexane methanol (MCHM) used in “coal-scrubbing” The chemical leaked into the Elk River and forced nine counties to go without tap water. “The Freedom Industries Inc. plant that leaked the chemical had not been inspected since 1991,” Plautz wrote, “and was not required to have an emergency response plan in place.”
The senators claim their required inspection and regulatory oversight is common-sense legislation to make sure all types of chemicals are appropriately monitored. Passage of this legislation would likely have an impact on producers, manufacturers of agricultural chemicals.
There had not been plans announced for such legislation to be introduced in the House of Representatives as of Jan. 20.