House Dems Press for Hearing on West Virginia Chemical Spill

Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif.
National Journal
Ben Geman
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Ben Geman
Jan. 13, 2014, 10:26 a.m.

A top House Demo­crat is ur­ging the cham­ber’s GOP ma­jor­ity to hold a hear­ing on the West Vir­gin­ia chem­ic­al spill that left hun­dreds of thou­sands of people un­able to use tap wa­ter in re­cent days.

The re­quest from Rep. Henry Wax­man, the top Demo­crat on the House En­ergy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee, shows that the ac­ci­dent will likely in­flu­ence polit­ic­al battles over the scope of fed­er­al chem­ic­al reg­u­la­tion.

“Late last week, res­id­ents of nine counties in West Vir­gin­ia learned that their wa­ter sup­ply had been con­tam­in­ated with a tox­ic chem­ic­al for which emer­gency re­spon­ders and reg­u­lat­ors had pre­cious little in­form­a­tion,” the Cali­for­nia Demo­crat and a col­league said in a let­ter Monday.

“We are writ­ing to re­quest that you im­me­di­ately sched­ule a hear­ing to ex­am­ine the reg­u­lat­ory gaps that this in­cid­ent has ex­posed in the na­tion’s tox­ic-chem­ic­al-con­trol laws,” adds the let­ter from Wax­man to Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., chair­man of the Sub­com­mit­tee on En­vir­on­ment and the Eco­nomy.

A spokes­wo­man for En­ergy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee Re­pub­lic­ans, in a state­ment, did not say dir­ectly wheth­er a hear­ing would oc­cur.

“The com­mit­tee is act­ively mon­it­or­ing the fed­er­al in­vest­ig­a­tion and work­ing to fully ob­tain the facts sur­round­ing the situ­ation,” spokes­wo­man Char­lotte Baker said.

Ef­forts to toughen En­vir­on­ment­al Pro­tec­tion Agency chem­ic­al over­sight un­der the Tox­ic Sub­stances Con­trol Act have failed to ad­vance on Cap­it­ol Hill for years, but some en­vir­on­ment­al­ists are us­ing the ac­ci­dent to re­vive calls to strengthen the law.

The let­ter from Wax­man and Rep. Paul Tonko, D-N.Y., urges Shimkus to hold a hear­ing on the spill and “its rel­ev­ance to the com­mit­tee’s con­sid­er­a­tion of TSCA re­form le­gis­la­tion.”

West Vir­gin­ia of­fi­cials began lift­ing wa­ter use re­stric­tions Monday, five days after a chem­ic­al used in coal pro­cessing called 4-methyl­cyc­lo­hex­ane meth­an­ol seeped in­to the Elk River from a plant in Char­le­ston.

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