Although it’s only the first step in a long road on Capitol Hill, Senator Joe Manchin’s Chemical Safety and Drinking Water Protection Act was passed unanimously by the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Thursday.
“He knows full well what happens when a community is upended because some kind of chemical gets into the drinking water supply and he went to work,” said Committee Chair Sen. Barbara Boxer of Calif.
Boxer addressed Senator Manchin, who is not a member of the Committee on Environment and Public Works, Thursday morning after its members passed the bill on to the full United States Senate.
The bill was introduced on January 27th just 18 days after a chemical spill into the Elk River contaminated the drinking water of more than 300 thousand West Virginians.
“By the grace of God, it could have been any state,” Manchin said during the meeting. “It’s something that we all took for granted or thought that everything above ground should have been inspected, especially if it’s close to your waterways or your filtration plants. That wasn’t being done.”
The bill sets minimum federal standards that chemical tanks must meet – including construction and leak detection requirements, secondary containment standards and the development of emergency response plans.
Facilities in a source water area are required to be inspected every three years under the law and all others every five years. The bill also gives the state authority to issue corrective orders and provides any costs the state may incur will be paid by site owners.
Evan Hansen of Downstream Strategies said the bills matches up to the way West Virginia’s Senate Bill 373 started the legislative process. That bill, which was signed into law earlier this week, changed, however, as it worked its way through both houses of the legislature.
“The West Virginia bill is much more comprehensive,” he said Thursday. “They overlap in terms of having new regulations on aboveground storage tanks, but the West Virginia bill includes a lot more.”
Things like installing early monitoring systems at water treatment facilities and long term medical monitoring stemming from the January 9th incident.
But Hansen says Manchin’s bill is a start, particularly in states that aren’t experiencing the aftermath of a spill.
It provides those states with a framework to implement a regulatory program, but Hansen believes it could be stronger particularly with the addition of source water protection plans that are now required in West Virginia.
Senator Rockefeller, who is also a co-sponsor of the legislation said in a release the bill moves the U.S. toward closing loopholes in the regulatory system and protects taxpayers from footing the bill for any future chemical spills.
There is no word yet from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s office if the bill will be put to a vote on the Senate floor.