By definition, both the state of West Virginia and the federal government failed about 300,000 Mountain State residents badly last month. Most of them probably assumed government at some level was ensuring hazardous chemicals stored near water supplies was being monitored to prevent leaks and spills.
They were wrong. After thousands of gallons of a chemical leaked out of a Freedom Industries storage tank into the Elk River at Charleston, the shocking truth was learned: Neither state nor federal agencies had visited the facility in years. No one was minding the store, so to speak.
Both the West Virginia Legislature and Congress are considering new regulations on the chemical industry. Incredibly enough, some say no new oversight is needed. Again, that simply is not true.
However, the issue should not be addressed merely by throwing rolls of red tape at it. Intelligent, necessary regulations – not new rules simply to allow politicians to tell voters they have done something – are needed.
State legislators and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin have crafted a bill that requires the Department of Environmental Protection Agency to establish and enforce rules for storage of chemicals. Regular inspections would be part of that.
A federal bill proposed by Sens. Joe Manchin and Jay Rockefeller, both D-W.Va., and Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., appears to have as its foundation a requirement that states inspect chemical storage facilities regularly.
But some in Congress want more. They seem to think stiff new oversight by federal agencies is desirable.
Fine. As long as someone does what was not done before the Freedom Industries spill – inspect chemical storage facilities to ensure they are safe – it matters little what level of government handles the task. But what is not desirable is a multitude of new rules at both the state and federal levels.
That could actually be counterproductive, in the long run. Congress, then, should take the approach favored by Manchin, Rockefeller and Boxer, and leave the actual oversight up to the states.