WV DEP given authority to inspect above ground tanks - WTRF 7 News Sports Weather - Wheeling Steubenville

WV DEP given authority to inspect above ground tanks

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West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Randy Huffman said recently the process of picking up the pieces after the winter water crisis will continue to linger.

Huffman, while reflecting on the situation, said many State DEP workers took it personally when the public’s accusations were rampantly claiming the DEP was not doing its job.

“The agency took criticism to the point of ‘it’s your fault,’ they really took that personally,” Huffman said. “The bottom line is we can only do what we have the authority to do.”

He said the DEP works hard in everything it does and if the law stated the department had to regularly inspect above-ground storage tanks, then it would have been done.

Senate Bill 373, passed after the chemical leak that led to a “do-not-use” water order for some 300,000 people in parts of nine counties, allows the DEP to regulate and inspect above-ground storage tanks.

Huffman said he was determined to see that particular clause included in the legislation because without it the DEP did not have the authority to check on tanks like the ones that contributed to the Jan. 9 chemical leak.

Without SB 373, the DEP only had the authority to issue storm water runoff permits to sites such as Freedom Industries, the source of the MCHM leak. That means those sites would only be inspected if there was cause or every six months. However the permits did not mean the DEP would have done anything other than walk on the sites in question and look around, he added. They wouldn’t have had the authority to look under or inside any tanks.

Huffman said the state made the decision in the ’80s to regulate underground storage tanks; the fact that above-ground storage tanks were not included leaves many questions.

“For whatever reason, it was excluded,” Huffman said.

The majority of the information passed along to the public in the hours and days after the spill, Huffman said, was coming from other sources that the DEP was trying to immediately confirm.

“You want to give it as soon as you can, but want to make sure you verify what you are about to say,” Huffman said. “I know how much information was coming in and how some of it lacked credibility.

“Our administration’s credibility took a hit.”

Huffman said Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin never withheld a shred of information or attempted to alter any information.

Huffman said all of the state’s agencies, including the Department of Health and Human Resources did the best they could in responding to the crisis situation.

“We didn’t create the information, we were simply passing it along,” Huffman said. “I’m one of the few people with the opportunity to witness what was going on inside the Capitol during the process.

“The (West Virginia) National Guard, what they did, was phenomenal,” Huffman said. “They were actually out on the ground taking samples and running them back and forth to get the information we needed as quickly as they could.”

He said the National Guard ended up playing a major leadership role in the process.

Huffman also pointed out that everyone involved wanted what was best for the community, because that generally included their families.

“We all have a stake in this,” he said. “Our families all live here and we’re affected by it.

“We wanted it dealt with and managed as quickly as possible.”