WV House sends 'water bill' back to WV Senate, Governor - Business, Government Legal News from throughout WV

WV House sends 'water bill' back to WV Senate before it can go to the Governor

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The West Virginia House of Delegates passed Senate Bill 373, more commonly known as the water bill, by a unanimous vote March 5.

The vote of 95-0 sends the bill back to the West Virginia Senate to concur with the changes the House made.

If the Senate does not accept the changes, a conference committee consisting of members from both chambers will be held. However, lawmakers only have until midnight on March 8 for the bill to complete legislation and get sent to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin for action.

The bill, as it stands, includes the long-term medical study of the 300,000 residents affected by the chemical spill of crude MCHM into the Elk River on Jan. 9.

The medical monitoring study would fall on the West Virginia Bureau for Public Health to conduct. The amendment was adopted by a vote of 83-13.

Delegate Meshea Poore, D-Kanawha, had been advocating for the protection of residents.

"I live in Kanawha County, but when we think about this bill I really think about the state," Poore said. "Personally, this has been a changing experience.

"On Jan. 9, my position as a delegate for the 37th District changed."

Poore said as a delegate she comes to the state Legislature with an agenda, she speaks with her constituents to discuss the bills they are concerned with. However, she said life changes things. She said she didn't have the opportunity to introduced some of the bills she planned to this session.

"To see a mother who stops you at a post office and almost breaks down in tears because she was afraid her children were going to be poisoned by taking showers even thought the all-clear had been given is something I will never forget," Poore added.

The bill, if passed as it is now written, would include an amendment offered by Delegate Justin Marcum, D-Mingo, which would exempt the oil and gas industry from some above-ground storage tank registration fees. Marcum said the amendment would only avoid duplicate fees.

"It does nothing to change the inspection, it only deals with individual permits," Marcum said. "Simply stated, friends, this is just eliminates fees."

Marcum's amendment passed by a vote of 55-41.

Another amendment offered by Poore and Delegate Nancy Guthrie, D-Kanawha, among others, added that all public water utilities in the state serving more than 100,000 customers be required to install and monitor for containments by the same detection capabilities utilized by the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission. When MCHM and PPH was leaked into the river, it traveled downstream to Cincinnati where they were able to shut off their intake and prevent the chemical from entering their facility. Poore, among the other sponsors, said they wanted to require West Virginia American Water conduct a feasibility study to determine if it is possible for them to test for certain containments, so they know the chemicals are in the water immediately.

Previously, Laura Jordan, spokeswoman for West Virginia American Water, said it was "impossible" and "impractical" to test for the list of containments the delegates offered in the bill.

Jordan said the chemicals were not tested under any other public water utility system in the United States.

Poore added, before the amendment passed, to have the water company conduct the feasibility of such an upgrade and report back to the Legislature with their findings by Jan. 1, 2015.

Her amendment was adopted by a vote of  72-23.

Finally, the bill in its entirety passed the House by unanimous vote of 95-0, with some delegates abstaining due to their roles in specific industries.

The bill moves to the Senate for members to vote whether or not they agree with the changes from the House and then to the Governor.

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