Apr 16, 2014

Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Approves Chemical Safety and Drinking Water Protection Act

On April 3, ACA attended the mark-up of the Chemical Safety and Drinking Water Protection Act, or S. 1961. This bill was introduced by Senators Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.). The bill passed out of committee by a voice vote. Members of the committee on both sides of the aisle expressed how this bill is a product of many hours of bipartisan negotiations.

The Chemical Safety and Drinking Water Protection Act was introduced in response to the Jan. 9, 2014, chemical spill from Freedom Industries, Inc. in Charleston, W. Va. About 7,500 gallons of a chemical called 4-methylcyclohexanemethanol (MCHM) leaked into the Elk River in Charleston, causing over 300,000 West Virginia residents to go without access to clean water for weeks. The spill not only negatively impacted residents — businesses and tourism in West Virginia also suffered from the spill.

The bill requires states to establish chemical storage facility source water protection programs to provide for the protection of public water systems from a release of a chemical from chemical facilities. The bills set out minimum requirements for these state programs as well as information sharing, notification, inspection, and cost recovery provisions. The bill also requires covered chemical storage facilities under these plans to be inspected every three years and any other covered storage facilities every five years. ACA met with Congressional staff to share its recommendations to make the bills narrower in scope and less burdensome on chemical facilities, and to utilize existing regulatory programs to the furthest extent possible.

Since the bill’s introduction, the legislation has gone through a number of revisions in response to many affected industries voicing their concerns about the broad scope of the bill. Chairwoman Boxer revised the introduced bill through a Manager’s Amendment during markup, so the amended bill now includes several key changes:
  • Includes a definition of a chemical
  • Establishes criteria for exclusions for which a state may apply
  • Narrows the scope of the bill to aboveground storage tanks rather than chemical storage facilities
  • Adds annual inspections for “high hazard” tanks
  • Allows pre-transfer inspections to be performed by third parties
  • Encourages states to incorporate existing standards into state programs
  • Requires EPA to issue guidance to states on implementation of state programs, and issue public notice and opportunity for comment on this guidance
Representative Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia has also introduced a bill in the House that is substantially similar to Senator Manchin’s bill to implement aboveground storage tank regulation programs in the states. Her bill remains in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Additionally, just days before the markup, West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin signed into law a bill to implement an aboveground storage tank regulation program in the state. This bill requires annual inspections of aboveground storage tanks and establishes registration, inventory, permitting, proof of financial responsibility, notification, information sharing, signage, and inspection requirements. The bill does exclude certain categories of aboveground storage tanks from some of these new requirements, sets up a “Protect Our Water Fund” to ensure adequate response to leaking aboveground storage tanks, and includes civil penalties for violations.

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