A column by Governor Earl Ray Tomblin
AUDIO: Clip 1, Clip 2
(March 9, 2014) Two months ago, I delivered my fourth State of the State address. It was an opportunity for me to highlight our successes, recognize my fellow West Virginians, and share my proposals for this legislative session. The next day, however, would bring an unprecedented disaster—the Elk River Chemical spill.
Immediately following the spill, I directed my team to work with the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to draft common sense legislation to help prevent this type of crisis from happening again. Tonight, in coordination with input from our citizens, the DEP, legislative leadership and our state legislature, we passed a bill with the best interest of all West Virginians in mind.
The bill will require all above ground storage tanks in zones of critical concern be registered with the DEP and be subjected to annual inspection by the DEP and independent engineers. In addition to developing a reasonable regulatory structure, the bill also requires the Bureau for Public Health to gather medical information to conduct long-term medical surveillance. It will also require West Virginia American Water to install an early monitoring system at its Elk River plant and require all water utilities have a written source water protection plan in place to prepare for emergency situations—specifically the discharge of a contaminant into the water supply.
West Virginia should always be prepared—whether it’s an emergency situation, major event, winter storm or predictable natural disaster. My State of Preparedness bill will allow the State to take the necessary steps to ensure the health and safety of West Virginians without declaring a State of Emergency, secure the resources needed to prepare for an emergency, and enter into agreements with the federal government and other states to ensure public safety.
Throughout my years in public service I’ve learned how incredibly important it is to be a good steward of the people’s money. For some time, we’ve known this year would bring tough financial choices for our state. We have committed to paying our bills on time so we do not impose financial burdens on future generations of West Virginians. We did not get here by accident—we got here with planning, patience and foresight.
While our budget is strained, I believe we must invest in our future—our children, our State employees and our State Troopers. It is important for us to honor the work of our educators by rewarding them for their tremendous efforts to educate our children and prepare them for success. It is equally as important we invest in our State employees who have increasingly been asked to do more with less and our State Police who work hard every day to serve and protect all West Virginians.
The Mountain State is also home to a number of military men and women. One of the challenges facing these families is the frequency with which they are required to relocate across state lines. That is why we made it a priority to ease the burdens faced by military spouses in obtaining a professional license when moving to West Virginia.
Sixty days ago, the 2014 Legislative Session began. I truly appreciate the hard work of our legislators. While we’ve encountered challenges along the way, together, we’ve passed several important pieces of legislation. I am thankful for their continued support and our shared vision to put West Virginia first.