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February 14, 2014

House Transportation And Infrastructure Committee Field Hearing On Elk River Spill


On February 10, 2014, the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure convened a field hearing in Charleston, West Virginia, on "The Charleston, West Virginia Chemical Spill." On January 9, 2014, a coal processing chemical, 4-methylcyclohexane methanol (MCHM), stored in an aboveground tank owned by Freedom Industries leaked into the Elk River in West Virginia. The leak compromised the water supply to nine counties in the state affecting some 300,000 residents. Due to a lack of toxicological data on MCHM, health officials were delayed in identifying a safe use level and once one was calculated, detractors claimed it was questionable due to the paucity of actual data. The incident has quickly become a basis for accelerating reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), a theme that was discussed at the hearing. A summary of the background and issues discussed at the field hearing is available online.

Several witnesses testified that the spill and the fact that authorities are unwilling to declare the affected water in West Virginia "safe" due to a lack of toxicological information on MCHM illustrates the need for TSCA reform. A recent Biobased and Renewable Products Advocacy Group (BRAG™) report on the spill and similar calls for new legislative action on TSCA is available online.

During the hearing, Representative Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) announced that she has introduced H.R. 4024, the Ensuring Access to Clean Water Act on February 10, 2014. The legislation would require states to create programs to oversee chemical storage facilities and inspect aboveground storage tanks. States without primacy would have programs created by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). A copy of the bill is available online.

Senate legislation has also been introduced to address the spill and calls for new chemical safety and security protections. On January 27, 2014, Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chair of the Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, and Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) introduced the Chemical Safety and Drinking Water Protection Act of 2014. The bill would amend the Safe Drinking Water Act by adding Part G — Protection of Surface Water from Contamination by Chemical Storage Facilities. The bill is intended to strengthen states' ability to prevent chemical spills such as that of January 9, 2014. A fact sheet regarding the bill is available online.

Bergeson & Campbell, P.C. (B&C®) has issued a memorandum providing an overview of the new Senate bill. The memorandum is available online.