Advocates for a Safe Water System and other parties urge PSC to continue investigation

Advocates for a Safe Water System joined with other parties to the Public Service Commission’s investigation into WV American Water’s response to the January 9, 2014 chemical spill in urging the Commission not to abandon or narrow its investigation. The Commission had issued an order expressing concern over the impact of Senate Bill 373 (passed in response to the spill) on the scope of the Commission’s investigation, suggesting that some of the issues that have been brought up so far in the investigation have been fully addressed by SB 373. The Commission invited comments from the parties to the investigation on whether its scope should be narrowed because of the overlap between its investigation and the Bureau for Public Health’s implementation of SB 373.

ASWS, the Public Service Commission Staff, the Consumer Advocate Division, and a group of local businesses filed comments yesterday arguing that it would be premature to narrow the scope of the investigation before the Commission has a complete picture of the problems that need to be addressed, stating, “for the PSC … to abandon a line of inquiry because it may find something that is not in its power to remedy … would seem to abrogate the PSC’s authority to act in the public interest to ensure safe and reliable water service.”

The joint comments note that one of the lessons already apparent from the water crisis is the need for agencies to coordinate better in situations where they have overlapping jurisdiction. As an example, the parties pointed to the fact that WV American Water had removed its chemical testing laboratory from the Kanawha Valley treatment plant ten years before the spill, an action that had apparently gone unnoticed by the Bureau for Public Health and the PSC, even though both agencies have some jurisdiction over ensuring that the water company delivers safe water. The parties stated, “there is a real possibility that the lesson here, if we care to look at it closely, will be that this was an area where too much fear of overlap … left a critical gap” and pointed out that narrowing the investigation’s inquiry at this stage might again leave “dangerous gaps.”

West Virginia American Water of course urged the PSC to drop the investigation.