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In Post-Spill West Virginia: Polluters' Input Welcome, Health Advocates Shut Out

Investigative report reveals Gov. Tomblin shut out environmentalists, public health officials to closed-door policy meetings following Elk River chemical spill

Lauren McCauley, staff writer

Seeking the opinions of 'stakeholders' for new proposed legislation meant to prevent future toxic chemical leaks like the January 9 Elk River spill, West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin invited a host of industry leaders and trade associations to weigh in.

However, notably absent from the talks were any environmentalists or public health officials, according to an investigative report by the Charleston Gazette published Tuesday.

West Virginia journalist Ken Ward Jr. reports:

The West Virginia Chamber of Commerce was invited. So were the Oil and Gas Association and the Coal Association. Trade associations representing grocers, manufacturers, trucking firms and energy companies were included, according to the Governor's Office.

But the chief lobbyist for the West Virginia Environmental Council — the environmental community's umbrella lobby group at the Capitol — said that his organization wasn't included in the governor's meeting.

"Neither I nor anyone else I know of in the environmental community knew about that meeting," Garvin said Monday. "You telling me about it is the first I've heard about that meeting."

"If you want a bill that protects clean water, you should probably listen to people who advocate for clean water, not the polluters," said West Virginia Sierra Club leader Jim Kotcon at a public hearing Monday night.

At the same meeting, West Virginia Coal Association Vice President Chris Hamilton said that he and other industry leaders "stand ready to offer our resources and expertise" in crafting the legislation.

The Gazette learned of the Jan. 20 closed-door meeting through documents released in a Freedom of Information Act Request about the proposed legislation.

The bill reportedly creates a new regulatory program for aboveground chemical storage tanks—such as the Freedom Industries tanks from which 10,000 gallons of coal cleaning chemicals spilled into the regional water supply.

Also included in the documents were "email messages in which several prominent industry lawyers and lobbyists offered suggestions for the governor's legislation," Ward reports.

Both the governor's bill, introduced on Jan. 22, and one passed a week later by the state Senate included versions of those recommendations.


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