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Bill Calls for New SDWA Chemical Storage Source Water Protection Program

On Tuesday, February 4th, the Senate Environment & Public Works Subcommittee on Water and Wildlife held a hearing on the aftermath of the recent spill of chemicals from an above chemical storage facility into the water supply for much of the city of Charlestion. The hearing also focused on S. 1961, the Chemical Safety and Drinking Water Protection Act.  Sponsored by Democratic Senators Manchin (WV), Boxer (CA), and Rockefeller (WV), the measure would add a new “Part G” to the Safe Drinking Water Act.  The new provisions (§1471-1476) would establish a new program requiring state primacy agencies to undertake “…a chemical storage facility source water protection program to provide for the protection of public water systems from a release of a chemical from a covered chemical storage facility.”  Drinking water programs would be required to provide for oversight and inspection of covered chemical storage facilities.
Witnesses included two of the three West Virginia Congressmen, the West Virginia Secretary of State and Secretary of the Department of Environment, the Natural Resources Defense Council, United Water, a West Virginia Public Service District, an independent attorney, and a representative from the International Liquid Terminal Association.  All, to somewhat varying degrees, supported the need to strengthen existing protections against a recurrence of the type of spill and contamination event that happened in West Virginia.  Most supported the approach envisioned in S 1961; however, some offered cautions that it may be more prudent to explore existing regulatory approaches rather than overlay new requirements onto the Safe Drinking Water Act.  Others suggested that bipartisan “in progress” reforms to TSCA (Toxic Substances Control Act) may be a better vehicle for any regulatory requirements.
In summary, the provisions of S. 1961 require that:

  • Each state chemical storage facility source water program must include acceptable standards for design and construction, leak detection, spill and overfill control, inventory control, emergency response and communications plans, employee training, facility integrity, lifecycle maintenance, potential toxicity of stored chemicals, safeguards or precautions for detection and mitigation to limit the adverse effects of a release, and financial responsibility requirements.  These regulatory requirements would become a new NPDWR as defined under SDWA §1412.
  • Each state program would also be required to provide PWSs with information on emergency response plans for all covered storage facilities within the same watershed and an inventory of each chemical held at those facilities.  Sensitive information would be protected except as shared with EPA and DHS and with a PWS or other public agency involved in emergency response.
  • Finally, although the bill includes cost recovery options for any associated response action as a result of a chemical release, no funds are authorized to stand up the new program or to provide for its implementation by state drinking water programs.

The full Committee is expected to consider and mark up the bill shortly.  Separately, the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee has tentatively scheduled a field hearing next Monday in Charleston, WV on the spill issue.  As of this writing, no similar legislation has been introduced in the House.

(Editorial Note:  ASDWA supports the overarching goals of the bill – better protection of sources of drinking water and closing of any regulatory loopholes in that regard – but does not believe the program envisioned in S. 1961 should be housed in the Safe Drinking Water Act nor carried out by state drinking water program personnel.)