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Blog: Manchin's Message from the Hill to the Mountains: Bipartisan Actions Making Sure Our Water is Clean and Safe


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Last week, something happened in the Senate that rarely occurs in today's Congress, where partisan gridlock and political dysfunction typically rule. Liberals and conservatives along with moderates and independents worked together to pass a bipartisan bill out of committee, under regular order, that will help ensure our drinking water supplies remain clean and safe.

Both Democrat and Republican members of the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee voted to pass out of committee the Chemical Safety and Drinking Water Protection Act, which would improve oversight of chemical storage tanks and help strengthen states' abilities to prevent chemical spills like the one on January 9th, which contaminated the water supply in nine West Virginia counties and impacted more than 300,000 West Virginians.

In the immediate aftermath of the Elk River spill, I began working with the EPW Committee to come up with a commonsense bill to make sure no West Virginian or American experiences a similar disaster ever again.

Within one week of the spill, we drafted legislation that struck the right balance between safeguarding drinking water sources for our communities and ensuring aboveground chemical tanks would be properly inspected, while also defending states' regulatory rights. We also wanted to make sure that emergency response agencies would be prepared for any future chemical incidents or emergencies.

In the weeks following our initial draft, Senator Barbara Boxer, Chair of the EPW Committee, and I discussed the importance of our legislation with some of my most liberal and most conservative Senate colleagues. Our goal was simple. We wanted to explain that we had worked together to find common ground in order to strengthen public water systems that provide our communities with clean and safe drinking water.

Once we explained that this bill simply aims to improve the safety of Americans by making sure our chemicals are properly managed, while also balancing the positive impact the chemical industry has made to our country, my good friend and Ranking Member of the EPW Committee, Senator David Vitter, expressed his support. He agreed that this bill makes common sense, marking this legislation as truly bipartisan -- a rare commodity nowadays in Congress.

The American Chemistry Council (ACC), which represents our nation's chemical industry, also had a seat at the table while we crafted and refined the bill's language. And we have continued to work with them as this bill moves through the Senate process. We recognize that such an important piece of legislation must have collaboration from every angle, and the ACC plays a huge role in garnering broad, bipartisan support.

But at a time when "compromise' is regrettably a dirty word in Washington and legislation often times takes years to craft, I was very thankful that we were able to expedite this normally sluggish process. The reality is that our catastrophic chemical spill must be a wakeup call not only to West Virginia, but to the entire country. This disaster could have happened anywhere in America, and without swift action, it still could.

While I continue to do everything that I can at the federal level, I want to thank Governor Tomblin for initiating the West Virginia Testing Assessment Project, the state's independent investigation, to examine every detail of this disaster and review what the short-term and long-term impacts may be on the people of West Virginia.

We are going to get to the bottom of every single question raised by our alarmed residents, concerned mothers, frustrated teachers, hurting businesses, and uneasy consumers. I will continue to urge the Centers for Disease Control and the Environmental Protection Agency to spend more time in our state to answer West Virginians' questions.

And although I realize we have a ways to go before all West Virginians receive the answers they need to feel 100 percent safe from potential health hazards, we have a chance to emerge from this crisis bigger and better. West Virginia can use this challenge as an opportunity to ensure we have the cleanest water in America, while also shining light on this unforeseen problem to the entire nation.

The bottom line is that neither West Virginians nor Americans should have to worry about the contamination of their water supply. It is essential that we move forward at both the federal and state levels to make sure our drinking water systems across America are safe in order to protect the health and well-being of all Americans.

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