Remarks of U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., before the Senate Environment and Public Works subcommittee
Thank you Chairman Cardin and Ranking Member Boozman for holding this hearing today and for finally bringing the national attention this issue deserves. I want to thank Chairwoman Boxer for working tirelessly with me in the immediate aftermath of the spill to draft this much-needed piece of legislation. And I also want to thank Ranking Member Vitter for attending this subcommittee hearing and for all his support on this issue.
On January 9th, less than four weeks ago, thousands of gallons of crude MCHM leaked from a storage tank into the Elk River, contaminating the drinking water of 300,000 West Virginia residents.
In our state, we have always worked hard to produce the energy and chemicals that power this country, but this cannot come at the cost of access to safe and clean drinking water, or to the safety and confidence of the people of West Virginia. This spill should have never happened and it is our responsibility in Congress to do everything we can to keep it from happening again anywhere in America.
That’s why I worked with Chairwoman Boxer to develop the Chemical Safety and Drinking Water Protection Act.
Our bill would require regular state inspections of all above ground chemical storage facilities and more frequent inspections of those facilities located near drinking water sources. It sets minimum federal standards that chemical facilities must meet – including construction and leak detection requirements, fail safe containment standards, the development of emergency response plans, and financial responsibility requirements.
Additionally, companies must inform the state, EPA, and local water systems of the chemicals they store.
That information, however, is only so helpful when we don’t have adequate health and safety data on these chemicals. That’s why I am also a cosponsor and totally committed to the Chemical Safety Improvement Act, which would, for the first time, require comprehensive testing of commercial chemicals.
Under the Chemical Safety Improvement Act, states could request that the EPA prioritize the testing of specific chemicals, including those held near waterways. And for chemicals like MCHM, the overwhelming lack of health and safety data is one of the criteria for designating a chemical as a “high priority.”
The bottom line is that no West Virginian or American should have to worry about the contamination of their water supply from a chemical spill and I will do everything in my power to enact legislation to protect safe drinking water.
These two bills would go a long way in ensuring that every American has access to safe drinking water and that if, God forbid, an incident like this occurs again, we have the tools to respond as quickly and effectively as possible.
And today, I’m asking all West Virginians, the EPA, the CDC, the West Virginia DEP and all those involved to join me in pledging to make sure the water in Kanawha Valley is the cleanest and safest in America. That should be our goal here today.