WASHINGTON -- House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Tuesday that no new regulations are needed after a chemical spill in West Virginia last week left more than 300,000 people without safe tap water. He suggested the incident was not the result of less environmental and energy regulation but of the Obama administration's failure to enforce existing rules.
"The issue is this: We have enough regulations on the books. And what the administration ought to be doing is actually doing their jobs," Boehner said at a press conference. "Why wasn't this plant inspected since 1991?"
"I am entirely confident that there are ample regulations already on the books to protect the health and safety of the American people," he added. "Somebody ought to be held accountable here. What we try to do is look at those regulations that we think are cumbersome, are over the top, and that are costing the economy jobs. That's where our focus continues to be."
Boehner's comments came in response to a question on whether the spill at a storage facility operated by Freedom Industries, which involved chemicals that are used to clean coal, was a "tradeoff" for the lax environmental and energy regulation favored among Republicans.
Questions have been raised about why the Elk River storage facility was not inspected at the state or federal level since 1991, as well as why its construction was permitted so close to the largest water treatment plant in the state. Current laws in West Virginia, where the coal industry forms the heart of the economy, require inspections for chemical production facilities, but not for facilities used for chemical storage.
State lawmakers have nonetheless remained lukewarm on the idea of new regulations in the wake of the spill, which also left dozens of people in need of medical treatment. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, a Democrat who is retiring this year, is one of the few West Virginia lawmakers to call for tougher regulations.
"Our legislature is in session, so the legislature should take action," Rockefeller told Bloomberg News in a story published Tuesday. "But if they don’t, then we have to get Congress all over it."
Rockefeller also requested expanded funds for the U.S. Chemical Safety Board following the spill as Senate and House appropriators prepared an omnibus spending package for the federal government. The bill, which was unveiled Monday night, included a half-million-dollar boost to the agency, which is investigating the spill.
On the flip side, the spending deal offered only modest relief to cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency under sequestration. Republicans even bragged about successfully cutting the EPA's funding by 20 percent since 2010 when summarizing the bill.
The EPA announced plans last month to significantly reduce inspections over the next five years. The agency said the move was necessary for a more "effective allocation of resources" to focus on the biggest polluters.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has also suffered under recent budget cuts. Due to low pay, the agency has struggled to hire and retain inspectors, resulting in so few workplace inspections that the average site will only face an inspection every 99 years.
OSHA officials had scheduled an inspection of the Freedom Industries facility in 2009 but canceled it because the facility didn't fall under the agency's special emphasis programs, the Associated Press reported Tuesday.