Recent Coal Facility Releases Gain Attention Of Senators Working on Chemical Safety Bill

Photographer: Gerry Broome/AP Photo

Coal ash swirl in the Dan River on Feb. 5, 2014 in Danville, Virginia. Close

Coal ash swirl in the Dan River on Feb. 5, 2014 in Danville, Virginia.

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Photographer: Gerry Broome/AP Photo

Coal ash swirl in the Dan River on Feb. 5, 2014 in Danville, Virginia.

Bloomberg BNA – Two recent coal product spills in North Carolina and West Virginia have drawn the attention of three Senate Democrats who are working on legislation to boost chemical storage safety in light of a chemical spill in January that left 300,000 West Virginia residents without drinking water.

“If there's something else that we missed that needs to be put in there, we'll do it,” Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), a sponsor of the Chemical Safety and Drinking Water Protection Act (S. 1961), told Bloomberg BNA Feb. 12.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who chairs the Environment and Public Works Committee, expressed concerns about the Feb. 2 spill of 50,000 tons to 82,000 tons of coal ash slurry from a storage lagoon at Duke Energy's Dan River Steam Station near Eden, N.C., into the Dan River, but did not say Feb. 12 whether the spill might affect the Senate bill.

Senators Seek Quick Advance of Bill

The North Carolina incident and the Feb. 11 release of 108,000 gallons of coal slurry from Patriot Coal Corp.’s Kanawha Eagle Prep Plant near Winifrede, W.Va., occurred during preparations to move the chemical safety legislation.

A senior Environmental and Public Works Committee aide told Bloomberg BNA Feb. 12 the senators hope to quickly advance S. 1961, introduced Jan. 28 by Boxer, Manchin and Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), and are currently soliciting comments on its contents.

The coal slurry from the Kanawha Eagle plant entered a creek feeding the Kanawha River and impacted roughly six miles of the stream, but does not appear to have affected area drinking water, according to the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection.

Patriot Coal Corp. emerged from bankruptcy in December. Manchin called the most recent spill “very concerning” but wanted to gather more facts before evaluating the need for additional legislative action to address such incidents.

In a Feb. 12 statement on his Facebook page, Rockefeller said he continues to monitor the coal slurry release and said “containment, damage assessment and remediation must happen immediately.”

High-Profile Spills, Releases

The Kanawha spill is the latest in a month of high-profile chemical and coal spills and releases. On Jan. 9, thousands of gallons of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol were released from a Freedom Industries facility just upstream from a water treatment plant serving Charleston and the surrounding region.

Around 300,000 people could not drink or shower using water from their taps as a result of the spill.

The Senate Democrats prepared S. 1961 in response to the Freedom Industries spill. The bill would require state inspections of above-ground chemical storage facilities that pose risks to drinking water supplies every three years and inspections of tanks without implications for drinking water supplies every five years.

Under the bill, chemical companies would have to let state and federal agencies know what chemicals they have on site, and states could recover emergency response costs for spills.

Duke Energy Spill

Then, on Feb. 2, the Duke Energy facility began leaking coal ash slurry after a 48-inch metal stormwater pipe under the coal ash pond broke open. The utility confirmed the pipe had been permanently sealed Feb. 10 and committed to developing a long-term cleanup plan for the river.

The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection said in a Feb. 12 statement that the coal slurry spill was “believed to have been associated with a faulty valve in the slurry pipe line.”

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) has introduced similar legislation in the House to S. 1961. Her bill would require states to establish inspection programs for above-ground storage tanks and oversee safety of chemical storage facilities.

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