I don’t directly cover water issues or water utilities here on The Power Line. Readers of this blog will notice that I have mentioned or connected dots from electrical issues to water issues in the past. I have also stepped away from electricity to comment on related issues, most notably my post after Massey Energy killed 29 West Virginians and a broader post on the economics of coal.
So here we are five days after a needless and preventable catastrophe has struck West Virginians in 9 counties. We heard the most complaints from the Charleston area, where WV media coverage is focused. But this crisis hit rural West Virginians the hardest, as they always do. People in Boone County, many of whom had their wells destroyed by the coal industry were forced to sign on to city water. Then German-owned WV American Water bought out their local PSD. Now those same Boone Countians are the last to have their service restored and received little emergency water during the disaster.
Government officials at the state and federal level have cooked up a fictional standard that allows them to tell everyone their water is safe, so we can forget what just happened and get back to wild wonderful West Virginia’s work of being open for business. All along, we have known that no water companies test for or filter industrial chemical contamination of any public water supplies because there are no standards AT ALL for safe levels of most exotic organic compounds that are regularly deposited into US water sources.
Just think for a minute what is happening in the Charleston area right now. For the last five days, WV American Water, and now every customer the company has, is flushing a chemical for which there is no established safe level down their drains, through their county sewage systems, right back into the Ohio River watershed. WV politicians and the state’s business class are once again flushing their problems downstream onto someone else. And all WV American Water customers have been roped into the scheme.
I have worked for many years to revive our state’s economy and build stronger businesses in WV. For decades I have heard politicians of all kinds decry youth emigration and brain drain from the state. For decades I have also witnessed those same politicians create a legal and regulatory playground for the chemical and extractive industries. It is a regime that plays Russian roulette with the health and safety of every person who lives in or visits WV.
The fact is, that you can’t have it both ways. You can’t have smart, ambitious people who want to work and build their businesses in a state that takes such risks with the lives of their families and livelihoods.
Are we really going to build a dynamic creative class in a state like this? Is anyone with a creative business idea going to want to move to a city whose national brand now is “that city with poisoned water” or “the city that allowed dangerous chemicals upstream from their own water supply?” Like it or not, that is Charleston’s brand. What tourism or revitalization marketing campaign has ever reached into every living room in the US like this story?
And the responsibility for that brand falls directly on Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and former Gov. Joe Manchin and the entire WV Legislature for creating a climate of fear and intimidation among WV regulatory agencies, and for not giving them the tools and money to do their jobs. The responsibility also lies with Charleston and Kanawha County officials who failed to stand up for their local communities. It was honorable of County Commissioner Kent Carper, for whom I have a lot of respect, to say that the Commission didn’t do enough to prevent the disaster, but that acknowledgement, coming as it does after the disaster, doesn’t mean much.
I have worked at every legislative session in the past five years to get laws passed that will move West Virginia forward, primarily in its policies concerning protecting the private property of rural West Virginians and the rebuilding of our obsolete electrical system. I have also engaged with the WV PSC in a number of cases throughout that period. I’ve already been down to the Legislature this year to testify before the Joint Economic Development Committee on the benefits of solar power generation in WV.
After the PATH fight fell away, there have been precious few people willing to spend a few days a year to directly engage with our politicians and the political process to make real change to move our state forward. All the problems of electrical reliability, business innovation, safe water, ending the coal industry’s war on our land and creating safe, healthy communities are all still there waiting to be solved.
The fact is that very few people, particularly politicians, are really serious about change in our state. The fact is that this is a zero sum game. If you don’t protect communities from depredation by chemical companies or coal companies, no smart people will want to move there and no smart people will want to stay there unless there are other reasons, like family or other connections, that keep them there.
That’s just a fact. You can’t have it both ways. If you don’t recognize and act on that fact, then you aren’t serious. You can talk about Richard Florida’s ideas about a creative class and nurturing innovation, but you need to go back and read his books. Florida’s main point is that innovators are drawn first to an area because it is a safe, healthy place to live. That’s his main point. If you really don’t make WV a safe place to work and live, you are only busy putting lipstick on a pig. That’s all you are doing.
If you aren’t serious about acting politically to make it happen in WV, then you aren’t serious about any of the rest of it.
There are politicians in this state who work every day to make it happen. Del. Mike Manypenny and Del. Barbara Fleischauer are two legislators with whom I have worked who are absolutely dedicated to protecting our state. If we were serious about WV, they, or politicians like them, would be the leaders in the Legislature or the Governor’s office. But we aren’t serious. Mike and Barbara usually find themselves in the minority on every good piece of legislation proposed during a legislative session.
Here’s one place you can start to elect more people like Mike and Barbara. Regenerate West Virginia is about, well, regenerating West Virginia. Time to put your money, and your body, where your mouth is.
I know we need to take action at the Legislature right away, with the clowns that got us into this mess. The WV Environmental Council lobby team has been fighting for clean water for over 30 years. WV Citizen Action Group has been fighting for change for the last 40 years. They can use your help. Send them money and get involved with their citizen lobbying work in this legislative session.
Whenever there is a disaster, 29 men are killed by the coal industry or our water is poisoned, it seems like it’s too late to do anything. The cynics and the pessimists are always ready to dump that on us to keep us away from the politicians that collude with industry to harm us. It’s never too late. Despite my deeply critical understanding of what is happening in our state, I remain an optimist. You should too.
I hope those of you who live in the Kanawha Valley realize that the 2014 legislative session has just started IN CHARLESTON and will be going on until early March. Most of you live within a half hour’s drive of the State Capitol, where it is all happening.
Are you mad? Are you outraged that you and your family are being threatened by the water you once thought was safe? Are you furious that authorities have told you that the water is now safe to use, but they have basically made that up?
If you aren’t quite mad enough, read what this professor from WV Wesleyan has to say about the situation.
Why isn’t there a crowd of angry West Virginians clogging the halls of the Capitol demanding accountability from the Governor and legislators? Why aren’t people there right now demanding changes that will prevent the next disaster?
Well — what are you waiting for?
Nothing is going happen if you don’t make it happen.