Shannyn Moore for the Anchorage Daily News
Pop Moore was born and raised in West Virginia. I’m proud of our family heritage in a state that includes the original Rednecks in the Battle for Blair Mountain. That’s where my grandfather fought to unionize the coal mines after getting buried in a slide.
When I was growing up, we’d go visit my grandmother in a tiny town in Boone County. It was humid and friendly. Tomatoes from the garden tasted delicious, and the people talked funny. The center of town was the yellow line that ran through it. I loved sitting on the porch swing listening to stories. Our family graveyard was on the top of a mountain, but my family lived in the hollows.
Last week when Freedom Industries’ chemical spill on the Elk River ruined the drinking water (well, every kind but flushing water) for more than 300,000 citizens in West Virginia, some of them were people I know. Some are family.
Just because a company has the word “Freedom” in it doesn’t mean it’s a good thing.
Having a leak in a 35,000-gallon tank of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol (MCHM), a chemical used to “clean coal,” and which causes skin irritation, diarrhea and vomiting, you might be frightened to find out the Centers for Disease Control don’t know anything about it.
Of course, West Virginia is one of those states under the sway of “regulation-is-bad-for-business” nuttery, so no representative of the public had inspected the tank of MCHM in more than 20 years — even though it was stored a mile and a half from the water supply for hundreds of thousands of people.
Ironically, the same day Freedom decided to accidently “treat” the Elk River, the Republican-led U.S. House voted to pass the “Reducing Excessive Deadline Obligations Act.”
Yes, that’s right, because requiring the EPA to occasionally inspect hazardous-waste storage to make sure it’s safe would be bad. The heart of the Act makes the requirement for clean-up insurance for companies dealing with toxic waste. Their solution? Slow the federal response to include state governments (read more bureaucracy), which runs the clock while disaster is building. Eventually, they get around to declaring it a Superfund site to be cleaned up using federal dollars.
Freedom Industries was created on Dec. 31, 2013. Nine days later the river was poisoned. Eight days after the spill, Freedom filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The company still owes $3.66 million to creditors and faces a deepening pile of class action suits.
If al-Qaida had poisoned the water of 300,000 Americans, as one astute Tweeter noted, we’d have invaded the wrong country before the weekend. But a corporation? No sense everyone getting all crazy, locking up executives and that sort of thing. Corporations are people, but for some reason they can’t go to jail like people.
In fact, they can go on like it’s not much more than a bad day at the office. Apparently nothing can stop corporations from exercising their constitutional right to bribe politicians to protect their interests by pulling the teeth of regulators and ensuring that the public ultimately bears the costs of their bad behavior.
Thanks, five members of the U.S. Supreme Court, for that truly perverse decision called “Citizens United.”
In very related news in Alaska, the Environmental Protection Agency released its three-year study on the proposed Pebble Mine in the Bristol Bay watershed. They concluded, “Pebble mine could destroy up to 94 miles of streams where salmon spawn and migrate and up to 5,350 acres of wetlands, ponds and lakes,” and then some.
For some reason, the memories of Gov. Sean Parnell and Sen. Lisa Murkowski keep failing them. The EPA didn’t swoop down on Alaska, unbidden. The agency was begged by Alaskans to do its study — by Alaskans, I’ll note, who don’t trust Parnell or his bureaucrats to honestly examine plans for a Pebble mine and protect the public interest.
Parnell said the study was a “pretext for an EPA veto of the state’s permitting process.” From your lips to God’s ears, governor, I hope you’re right.
Murkowski was toting around the same talking points. “EPA’s assessment stops short of prohibiting responsible development in the Bristol Bay watershed, but the agency has strongly implied that this report will be a basis to pre-emptively veto economic opportunities in the region in the future.”
Listen, Lisa, EPA federal “overreach” is our only hope for an honest evaluation of the risks of creating a lake full of poison water in the heart of Bristol Bay. You think that’s nothing to worry about?
Tell you what, let’s you and me go to West Virginia. I have some people I want you to meet.
Shannyn Moore is a radio host on 1480 AM in Washington, D.C., and on Netroots Radio.