Water Woes

I had the opportunity to sit in on a meeting of the West Virginia House of Delegates’ Health Committee.

Have you ever heard the phrase that it’s like “closing the barn door after the horse has gotten out?”

It refers to actions taken too late to prevent a problem or situation from occurring.

That’s the phrase that kept running through my head this past Wednesday evening, when I had the opportunity to sit in on a meeting of the West Virginia House of Delegates’ Health Committee.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you that my wife is on that committee. But she may or may not agree with what I’m about to say.

The Committee approved its version of a bill, designed to stiffen regulations on above-ground and in-ground storage tanks, that could potentially rupture and contaminate drinking water supplies.

The bill, and a version from the State Senate, are a direct result of the January leak of coal-cleaning chemicals from Freedom Industries in Kanawha County. That leak tainted the water serving about 300,000 people, many of whom still won’t drink the water coming from the faucets in their homes and businesses.

A lot of man-hours have been put into these pieces of legislation.  A couple of observations:

If this leak had NOT happened in the Kanawha Valley, it would not hold the attention of lawmakers nearly as much as it has. Yes, that region is the most-heavily populated area in West Virginia. But the fact that legislators themselves are inconvenienced and the media in Charleston are constantly talking about the problem, lawmakers have no choice but to “do something” – anything! No matter how ill-advised. The fact that this is an election year is no doubt also a factor.

Second, there were countless pages of rules, regulations, licensing procedures, guidelines, the Clean Water Act, the Department of Environmental Protection, and the EPA when the leak at Freedom Industries occurred. And yet NONE of those prevented that disaster from happening.

What is it about this new round of rules and regs that will ensure there will not be a repeat?

Rather than writing a bunch of new rules it would better if those efforts were focused on tightening the loopholes in the current laws and properly funding the agencies tasked with inspecting places like Freedom Industries.

And a fair amount of energy should be spent finding out which state or federal agencies dropped the ball by failing to properly inspect the Freedom Industries site for many years. And if that leads to firings or even convictions, so be it.

But merely writing new laws, to placate voters, and putting those laws in books on shelves, that will be ignored like others before them, is a waste of time and taxpayers’ money.

That’s this week’s editorial.

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