Getting Chemical Tank Bill Right

Knee-jerk reactions to disasters often leave much to be desired, especially when politicians are involved. Nevertheless, West Virginia legislators were right to respond quickly and decisively after a chemical spill near Charleston affected drinking water supplies for about 300,000 people.

But now anger about what happened has been replaced by calmer consideration of the situation – and it is possible lawmakers will not approve a bill on the subject during their current regular session.

Within days of the Jan. 9 spill, Mountain State residents learned to our shock, dismay – and anger – that regulation of chemical storage facilities near water supplies has been spotty, at best. For years, neither state nor federal agencies had inspected the Freedom Industries tank that leaked.

Legislators, working with the state Department of Environmental Protection, quickly wrote a bill to provide rules for chemical storage facilities and a system of inspecting them. State senators already have passed a bill on the matter.

But action has bogged down in the House of Delegates – for good reasons. To their credit, some lawmakers are worried sections of the bill are either not tough enough or are too burdensome for industry.

At the heart of the bill is a requirement all aboveground chemical storage tanks must be inspected annually. More frequent checks would be required for some tanks, while others would be exempted from that requirement.

Concern about getting the bill just right threatens to derail it for the current session, which ends at midnight Saturday. Some legislators want to schedule a special session to conclude work on the measure.

The complexity of the situation virtually guarantees legislators cannot come up with a set of regulations that please everyone, no matter how long they ponder and debate the issue.

Allowing a few more days that could make a big difference in the bill’s level of protection does make sense, however.

Legislators traditionally stay in Charleston for a few days after the regular session, to deal with the budget and, sometimes, a few other items. Adding the chemical storage bill to the agenda for that special session – if action cannot be agreed upon this week – would be appropriate. No additional delays should be accepted, however.