Why does W. Va. want MORE toxic water pollution?


It wasn’t that long ago when the issue of water pollution in West Virginia was front-page national news. You may remember the incident that happened just over three years ago, in January 2014, involving a company called Freedom Industries. To paraphrase the old Janice Joplin song, “freedom” was just another word, in this case, for corporate neglect. A holding tank filled with crude 4-methylcyclohexanemethanol, a highly toxic chemical used to wash coal, leaked and emptied undetected into the Elk River, the main source of tap water for a populated nine-county area. The news that 7,500 gallons of the hazardous chemical has spilled along the river bank caused local officials to ban water usage for 300,000 people in the region, which includes the state capital of Charleston. More than 700 people, nonetheless, reported symptoms such as nausea or skin rashes, and several were hospitalized. Officials said the episode exposed major holes in the way that chemicals are inspected and regulated in West Virginia.

And eventually, state lawmakers in the Mountaineer State sprung into action. This week in Charleston, the West Virginia legislature is debating a bill that — wait for it — would clear the way for MORE toxic water pollution in their state. Not less. Here’s some of the remarkable details from Charleston’s newspaper, the Gazette and Mail:

Despite strong opposition at a public hearing, little analysis by lawmakers of potential environmental impact and no data to support promises of new jobs, a bill that would allow more toxic pollution to be discharged into West Virginia’s rivers and streams moved one step closer Monday to passage later this week in the House of Delegates.

The story notes:

During a public hearing Monday morning, the majority of speakers opposed the legislation, which is being pushed by the West Virginia Manufacturers Association with support from business lobby groups, including the state Chamber of Commerce.

The bill would change the stream flows used when state officials calculate pollution permit limits in a way that would allow greater discharges of cancer-causing chemicals and other toxic substances. “I know times are tough, but this bill is not the solution,” said Gabriel Peña, of Fayette County, one of two-dozen residents who spoke against the measure. “Protecting water quality is an investment in the future of West Virginia.”

Other residents from Fayette County, from the Cheat River area of Preston County and from Greenbrier County told lawmakers that their and other communities across the state have made significant headway in developing tourism as a growth business, and that legislation to weaken environmental protection hurts those efforts, by threatening water quality directly and by continuing a bad image of the state that discourages outdoor enthusiasts from coming to West Virginia.

“We are tripping over ourselves to allow more pollution into our rivers,” said Amanda Pitzer, executive director of the Friends of the Cheat in Kingwood. Larry Orr, president of the West Virginia Council of Trout Unlimited, told lawmakers, “This bill would be a step backwards for the protection of waters in the United States.”

Indeed. Look, we can all agree that the loss of coal-mining jobs in West Virginia and elsewhere around Appalachia has been a human tragedy, linked to high rates of economic misery and even opioid abuse. But allowing wanton toxic pollution of our streams and waterways — especially in a state that has seen some of the worst abuses — simply is not the answer. Yet there are similar moves afoot in other state capitals and even from the federal government in Washington to make it easier for energy companies and other industries to foul our waterways. It’s time to stop this madness and think about what really creates jobs — and what keeps us safe.

Read more about the pollution legislation in West Virginia from the Gazette and Mail: http://www.wvgazettemail.com/news-politics/20170227/water-pollution-bill-advances-despite-strong-opposition-at-public-hearing

Learn more about the need for worldwide action on fossil fuels in my new book, Crude Justice: How I Fought Big Oil and Won, and What You Should Know About the New Environmental Attack on America: http://shop.benbellabooks.com/crude-justice

© Stuart H. Smith, LLC 2017 – All Rights Reserved

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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