There is little doubt that the bill aimed to protect water resources in the state, in response to the Jan. 9 spill of MCHM into the Elk River by Freedom Industries, has been the most closely watched and widely discussed bill of the session.
Although the Senate passed SB 373 less that two weeks after its introduction, its passage in the House took far longer--a result of a triple committee reference that offered a chance for roughly 60 delegates to offer amendments to the bill. Delegates also labored over 20 amendments on the bill's Third Reading Wednesday night before deciding to send the bill back to the Senate.
Here's a few highlights from Wednesday night's floor session leading up to SB 373's passage:
1. The (Re) Addition of a Long-Term Medical Study
The amendment reinstated a Judiciary Committee suggestion into SB 373 which required the Bureau of Public Health conduct long-term monitoring of those exposed to MCHM from the Freedom Industries leak.
It was removed by the Finance Committee based on testimony from Dr. Letitia Tierney who said that the language wasn’t needed for her office to conduct the study.
Delegate Meshea Poore, who proposed the amendment in the Judiciary Committee and also on the House floor, believed the language should be included so should Dr. Tierney not remain in her position the provision would still be carried out.
2. Exemptions Were Included
One exemption proposed by Delegate Justin Marcum provided facilities covered by National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits not be subject to any other registration fees.
A second amendment exempted non-storage facilities with tanks primarily used to sell gas and oil that had secondary containment for the tanks and a Tier II report filed to only have to pay a one time permit fee.
Delegate Tim Manchin opposed the amendments claiming that picking which industries should be exempt was a “slippery slope” toward a weaker bill.
Both amendments were adopted by votes of 55-41 and 76-20, respectively.
3. The Addition of Early Chemical Detection Systems
The amendment reinstated another Judiciary Committee provision in which water treatment plants that serve 100,000 or more customers add an early chemical detection system to warn the public of future contaminants in the water supply.
Delegate Marty Gearheart was concerned that the technology to detect all hazardous chemicals listed in the amendment was non-existent based on testimony from West Virginia American Water. Therefore, the provision would mandate the impossible.
Delegate Poore revised the amendment to include if implementing the technology was not feasible, the company would have to report this to the legislature and offer alternative solutions.
The amendment was adopted, 72-23.
4. Citizen Enforcement Was Rejected
Delegate Mike Manypenny proposed two amendments that would allow citizens to bring forward law suits against agencies in charge of regulation and against companies that violate regulations if the proper authorities did not.
Manypenny argued that provisions are already established in code for similar purposes in regards to coal mines.
Other delegates were concerned that this would lead to a significant amount of frivolous lawsuits and would scare future business away.
Both amendments were rejected by voice vote.
5. A Couple of Odd Things
Delegates are not usually in the House Chamber as late as they were last night.
This was made evident when the lights--which are on a timer--went out as Delegate Manchin was explaining the bill to his colleagues.
The lights came back on a few minutes later.
Speaker Tim Miley may not know his own strength. When bringing the delegates back from a short recess, he broke his gavel in half.
The Water Resources Protection and Management Act as amended was passed 95-0 by the House. The bill heads back to the Senate and, if they concur with the changes, it will be passed to Governor Tomblin to be signed into law. However, if the Senate disagrees with the House's amendments, the bill will go to conference committee.