February 19, 2014
The Charleston (WV) Gazette
By Caitlin Cook
Local businesses in favor of stronger regulations after the Jan. 9 chemical leak into the Elk River have support beyond the Mountain State from the American Sustainable Business Council.
The ASBC is pushing for federal regulation to protect people from hazardous chemicals and to encourage the creation of safer chemicals.
“We want them to understand, small and medium-sized businesses across this country are standing up with them,” said Frank Knapp Jr., president and CEO of the American Sustainable Business Council. “They’re part of the bigger picture.”
Jennifer Pettigrew Burns, owner of Ms. Groovy’s Catering on Charleston’s West Side, said support from the national group reinforces her belief that campaigning for stricter regulations is the right thing to do.
“This is a national thing,” Burns said. “It can happen in any part of the country that have storage tanks with toxic chemicals.”
A petition signed by more than 100 West Virginia business owners voicing concerns and listing recommendations for regulations was presented to the legislature Monday.
Burns said Monday was a good first step in making the legislature aware of the business community’s concerns about the chemical spill and encouraging the passage of Senate Bill 373, the Water Resources and Protection Act.
The bill was spurred by thousands of gallons of MCHM and PPH leaking into the river contaminating the drinking water for 300,000 people. Businesses and schools were closed for days until DO NOT USE orders were lifted throughout the nine affected counties.
Burns said it’s been a challenge to maintain her own business operation while helping organize local business leaders.
“It’s very important,” Burns said. “Our voices do need to be heard — the collective voice of small businesses in those nine counties need to be heard.”
Knapp and Burns agree the only way to make sure more communities do not go through a similar disaster is for regulation reform.
Since the chemical leak, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., has renewed a push to revamp the Toxic Substances Control Act, which would help get more health information on the more than 80,000 chemicals currently in use.
At a meeting Wednesday with small business owners affected by the water crisis, Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said that TSCA, which hasn’t been updated since it was passed in 1976, should be looked at again. She declined to say how she would vote if the bill came up in the House, saying she would need to read the specific version.
“When you don’t have sufficient and efficient regulations, you have the big boys who win all the time,” Knapp said. “Small businesses can’t compete and they can’t pay the price when big businesses mess up.”
The first weekend after the chemical spill, Burns lost thousands of dollars, she said. She isn’t sure how much money she lost in January but her business is back to “normal” now, she said.
Burns said organizers reached out to businesses and collected signatures presented to the legislature in a week and a half.
“I was very surprised about the positive feedback that we are getting,” Burns said. “It’s great to talk to other business owners about what they are experiencing.”
Businesses continue to reach out and support continues to grow, Burns said.
“We want to be with them,” Knapp said. “We don’t know what the outcome will be but we will be there with them.”
Burns hopes the Water Resources and Protection Act passes without any exemptions.
“We now have learned the hard way about gaps in regulation that have so drastically affected business and threaten our ability to do business in the future,” the letter stated.
“It’s commendable to address something that’s so crucial to the economy there,” Knapp added.
For more information on local businesses’ efforts on stronger regulations email wvc…@gmail.com
Staff writer David Gutman contributed to this report..
Reach Caitlin Cook at caitlin.c…@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5113.