10:33 GMT +315 November 2019
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    A chemical plant located along a branch of the Kanawaha River in Charleston, W.Va.,

    One Year After Toxic Leak West Virginia Moves to Ease Environmental Laws

    © AP Photo/ Steve Helber
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    In most places, if a toxic leak contaminated a town’s entire supply of drinking water for nearly a week, local authorities would do whatever it took to make sure it didn’t happen again.

    But that’s not the case in West Virginia.

    Just a year after a chemical spill dumped nearly 8,000 gallons of toxins into Charleston, West Virginia’s water supply and sent residents scrambling for alternatives to the hazardous tap water, and some to area hospitals with reports of skin rashes, diarrhea and other adverse reactions after contact with the contaminated water. Now, state lawmakers are looking at some proposals that would actually roll back the state’s clean water laws and weaken a new law on chemical tank safety.  Another proposed piece of legislation would exempt most chemical tanks from complying with new storage standards.

    Legislators are also discussing a proposal that would protect the state’s powerful coal industry from enforcement actions if they violate water quality standards. That proposal would prohibit residents from suing the coal mining industry and other violations of clean water standards. Last year’s toxic leak, for instance, was a chemical commonly used to clean coal. If this year’s proposals become law and another spill similar to last year’s occurs, the coal industry wouldn’t be liable.

    Backers of the “Coal Jobs and Safety Act” say it’s a way for West Virginia’s coal industry to be more competitive with coal regions in other states, adding that tougher federal environmental standards hinder business on the local level.

    Taken together, the proposals would essentially gut the state’s current clean water laws and standards.

    Clean Water Supporters in Front of West Virginia State Capitol Building
    Clean Water Supporters in Front of West Virginia State Capitol Building

    On the other hand, proponents of tougher standards say those are needed to ensure that residents are protected, but they face an uphill battle since supporters of tougher clean water laws don’t have enough votes in the state legislature to block those proposals that seek to overturn or weaken clean water standards.

    Legislators are expected to continue to look at the proposed bills over the next several weeks.

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    West Virginia, chemical spill, water supply, West Virginia
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