Are you against regulation? Do you hate the EPA? Do you think in case of a national disaster, such as chemical spills or hurricane Katrina, the first entities arriving at the scene are Mitt Romney, Bain Capital, General Electric and other Fortune 500 companies? Do you think the government and its regulatory agencies holding corporations that handle your food, air and water, accountable was some kind of a conspiracy by a socialist Kenyan to take away your god-given freedoms and a ploy to destroy your American way of life?
That’s ok, because you have a lot in common with Freedom Industries and the citizens of West Virginia – a chronically Red state whose residents have been voting against their own self interest so much, they deserve the Darwin Awards if you ask me.
Last month, a storage tank leaked 10,000 gallons of a chemical used to wash coal into the Elk River, about a mile upstream from the intake for West Virginia American Water, the largest water utility in the state, leaving over 300,000 residents without access to safe drinking water. As a result of the spill, emergency rooms treated hundreds of patients for symptoms related to chemical exposure and numerous people were admitted with acute symptoms and who knows how many people have been exposed to levels that will show effects over time.
In a second spill later in February, more than 100,000 gallons of waste from a coal processing facility leaked into a tributary of West Virginia’s Kanawha River, blackening six miles of Fields Creek.
West Virginia is the prime example of what happens when you put corporations, who are paying off politicians, in charge while keeping regulators out and neuter the few remaining ones to a degree that they may as well not be there.
Lack of regulation in a state where coal and chemical companies form the heart of the economy ultimately allowed for a chemical storage facility to sit on the river and close to a water treatment plant.
As Angela Rosser, the executive director of West Virginia Rivers Coalition points out, the site of the spill has not been subject to a state or federal inspection since 1991. That is because West Virginia law does not require inspections for chemical storage facilities — only for production facilities because as we all know, spills can only happen during the production phase of a chemical, and not during its storage.
Critics say the problems are widespread in West Virginia where coal and chemical industries, such as Freedom Industries which is responsible for the first spill in January, are powerful forces in the state’s politics and which have long pushed back against tight federal health, safety and environmental controls.
This is not the first chemical accident to hit West Virginia’s Kanawha Valley.
After an explosion at a West Virginia chemical plant owned by Bayer CropScience killed two employees in 2008, a 2010 congressional investigation found that managers refused for several hours to tell emergency responders the nature of the blast or the toxic chemical it released. It also found that they later misused a law intended to keep information from terrorists to try to stop federal investigators from learning what had happened. The plant manufactured the same chemical that was being processed at the time of a gas release in 1984 that killed 10,000 in Bhopal, India.
In 2009, an investigation by The New York Times found that hundreds of workplaces in West Virginia had violated pollution laws without paying fines. In interviews at the time, current and former West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection employees said their enforcement efforts had been undermined by bureaucratic disorganization; a departmental preference to let polluters escape punishment if they promised to try harder; and a revolving door of regulators who left for higher-paying jobs at the companies they once policed.
“West Virginia has a pattern of resisting federal oversight and what they consider EPA. interference, and that really puts workers and the population at risk,” said Jennifer Sass, a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council and a lecturer in environmental health at George Washington University.
Naturally, no charges have been filed against the company that, ironically enough, goes by the name of Freedom Industries.
Oh yes, the irony here is biting.
Freedom Industries reminds one of Freedom Fries, the Statue of Liberty, apple pie and red-white-and-blue. I envision sunny picnics being held for employees on the AstroTurf overlaying the semi-leaking chemical landfill next to the toxic chemical plant, to rally them up against them evil, socialist Liberals who want the EPA to interfere with their time honored right to be exploited and poisoned and to take away their America and guns as they know it.
I bet it is named Freedom Industries because the owner of the plant, in some jingoism induced nostalgic delusion, wanted to show the world what we can achieve with the freedom of free enterprise bestowed upon us by Jaaysus, god and the Founding Fathers.
Looking back, in what appears to be a strange twist of fate, what they really meant with Freedom Industries, of course, – which is incidentally what all Republicans mean when they talk about freedom and America the wonderful blah blah blah – is the freedom to be exploited and poisoned without any avenues of recourse and accountability, because accountability in the form of regulations is for socialists, Liberals, gays, the French and other similar suckers. We here don’t need them. We have our guns, our Bible and the god-given right to be exploited and poisoned by the hard working job creators and American Dream generators of big industry.
Wake up Call
Thing is, the residents of West Virginia are just now getting up to a rude awakening and realizing that they do need these pesky regulations they have been religiously voting against for the past half a century. Now that the toxic shit has hit the fan, so to speak, many resident are just now seeing this as a “wakeup call” on the need for better regulations, according to new polling data released Monday.
The poll, conducted by Hart Research Associates and commissioned by the Sierra Club, found that 73 percent of residents polled agreed that the state “has paid too little attention to addressing threats to air and water,” and felt that the spill was a signal that “things must change.” Seventy percent of the people polled also said they thought other incidents like this would occur if efforts are not made to prevent them.
No shit! Imagine that, regulations actually being good for people. A truly radical idea in this country.
Yet, I must admit, have very little sympathy for the people of West Virginia who made their toxic waste and now will have the pleasure to bathe in it. I suggest trying to pray away the chemicals, dear residents. I hear West Virginia is a highly religious state so I am sure god keeps an eye out for you and can, with his magic wand of omnipotence, make it all go away.