UPDATE: WV American Water Co. issues response after PSC orders limited release of safety plans
PSC Commissioners issued order for limited release of WVAW safety plans.
CHARLESTON, WV -
Laura Jordan, a spokesperson for West Virginia American Water Company, issued the following statement on Tuesday, August 26.
"We agree that our customers should know that their water provider does have emergency response plans. The company made clear prior to the recent Public Service Commission Order that it does have emergency response plans and that such plans were in place before January 9, 2014. But we do not agree with any suggestion that the details of these plans, or any security sensitive information about the water treatment and distribution system, should be publicized without restriction. We appreciate that the Commission recognizes the need for restrictions to maintain the security of critical planning and infrastructure documents.
The PSC's Order makes clear that the Commission agrees that releasing details on emergency plans and facilities that could be targeted should be done carefully and in a way that does not put public safety at risk. This is not just our position; it is the law, both nationally (2002 Bioterrorism Amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act) and in specific provisions of the West Virginia Freedom of Information Act."
The West Virginia Public Service Commission ordered West Virginia American Water to release documents about the company's emergency plans during the water crisis.
The released documents will only be available to the commission and to parties in a legal case that agree to sign a protective agreement.
On Monday August 18, the West Virginia Public Service Commission held a discovery dispute conference pertaining to its investigation into West Virginia American Water. The PSC has been actively investigating West Virginia American Water following the Jan. 9, 2014 chemical spill in Charleston, West Virginia that contaminated the drinking water for more than 300,000 people for several days.
The root purpose of the investigation is to determine the role WVAW played in the water crisis. Since the beginning of the investigation, several disputes have occurred among the water company and those intervening in the case on behalf of the public. The top dispute in the case at this point revolves around West Virginia American Water's emergency response plan in place during and prior to the water crisis.The initial time frame for the PSC's investigation was not supposed to cover anything prior to the Jan. 9 spill, but now many believe it is important to the case to know what exactly WVAW did before, during and after the water crisis.
WVAW has refused to turn over its emergency response plan because the company argues it goes beyond the scope of the investigation and has potential to put its water plant in danger. According to the water company, it is not permitted to discuss emergency response plans because they are submitted to the DEP and protected from public disclosure under federal law by the 2002 Bioterrorism Amendments to the Safe Drinking WaterAct. Commissionerss with the PSC say they understand the vulnerable position the water company would be in if its emergency plans and safety procedures fall into the wrong hands. Commissioners have said if those documents are required in the case they would find ways to keep all sensitive information confidential.
On Monday, Aug. 18 the Public Service Commission decided it was not going to draw a line at the Jan. 9 chemical spill date in the investigation. This means that they are considering any information important to the case that occurred prior to the chemical spill within the investigations scope.
In terms of the remaining disputes between the water company and those intervening in the case, the PSC made it clear that all parties have the choice to either meet and work on these disputes together or the commission will rule on these disputes by the end of the week.
Lawyers representing businesses who were financially burdened by the water crisis have requested meetings with the water company multiple times throughout the investigation. WVAW has denied all requests for dispute discussion meetings.
Lawyers representing West Virginia American Water told PSC commissioners that they want all disputes to be ruled upon before discussing these issues any further. They asked for clarity in the scope of the investigation and have no intentions of working things out with those intervening in the case prior to those rulings. They want to know exactly what information is discoverable in this investigation.
Public Service Commissioners stated that if no compromise between parties can be made, commissioners will reach rulings on these disputes by the end of the week.