Leak on the minds of W.Va. lawmakers

CHARLESTON – As water service begins to return to the state Capitol complex, along with parts of Charleston, the Legislature is scheduled to return to work this evening.

Some lawmakers believe the chemical leak that cut off water to the city will be addressed legislatively.

Legislators who were able to make it in convened briefly at 1 p.m. Monday and then adjourned until 6 p.m. today, said Delegate Dan Poling, D-Wood.

Poling said he was told by the House leadership that waterlines for businesses and residences as well as the Capitol complex were being flushed out Monday and would be in working order by today.

The Legislature is reconvening at 6 p.m. to allow everyone time to return to Charleston as some legislators have a six-hour drive from the Eastern Panhandle, he said.

“I was told that we should be back to a normal schedule on Wednesday,” Poling said. “Right now, they are just giving everyone time to get back.”

Poling said he has one committee meeting planned for this evening.

“We really didn’t miss too much time,” Poling said. “We should be able to get back on track without having to extend the session.”

U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said his office is conducting an investigation into the the release of a potentially dangerous chemical into the water supply around Charleston.

“As the immediate water crisis begins to ease and West Virginians regain access to drinkable water, I want to make three things clear,” he said. “One, my office will continue working as quickly as possible to find out exactly what happened here, including the complete timeline of the release and what was done – or not done – before and after it. Two, if our investigation reveals that federal criminal laws were violated, we will move rapidly to hold the wrongdoers accountable. And three, companies whose facilities could affect the public water supply should be on notice: if you break federal environmental laws, you will be prosecuted.

“Our drinking water is not something you can take chances with, and this mess can never be allowed to happen again.”

West Virginia American Water Co. has offered residents a 1,000-gallon credit when service is restored.

Delegate John Ellem, R-Wood, who serves on the House Judiciary Committee, said one delegate has asked House Speaker Tim Miley to have lawmakers look into the leak and recommend legislation that would have such containers holding potentially dangerous chemicals to be set back farther from a water source.

Freedom Industries, which is the company where the chemical leak originated, reported what was there as required by federal law, but still issues and concerns were presented once the leak was reported and being dealt with, Ellem said especially regarding the state Division of Environmental Protection.

Ellem said lawmakers want to make sure the DEP has the resources to effectively address an emergency like this as well as preventing it from happening.

The DEP is doing well testing from legislation that was passed in 2011.

“We want to make sure the resources are there for what needs to be done,” Ellem said.

Delegate Bill Anderson, R-Wood, who serves on the House Natural Resource Committee, said it was too early to make assessments of the situation that would result in an immediate bill being introduced.

Throughout the crisis, Anderson said, the State Police, the Kanawha County Sheriff’s Department and the National Guard did a good job in dealing with an ever-changing dynamic situation. Emergency plans were in place and were being followed, he said.

“The emergency services did a good job,” Anderson said.

Lawmakers will look at the situation, see what laws are in place, see if they were followed and if something is lacking, the Legislature can take action to address it, he said.

“I don’t believe in doing a knee-jerk reaction,” he said. “It would be premature, at this time, to say ‘I am going to run out and introduce a bill.”‘