Sorry That We Cared Too Much: West Virginia Legislature Voting to Make Water More Poisonous

You remember a little over a year ago when 300,000 people in West Virginia, including most of the city of Charleston, had to go without drinking and washing water for weeks because a company of fucknuts called, without a hint of shame, Freedom Industries, didn’t inspect the big ass storage containers of dangerous-ass chemicals that were on the edge of a river just 1.5 miles from a water plant.  You remember that, right?  When everyone had to bathe in bottled water, like they were fancy Kardashians or something?

In response to that, the legislature jumped into action, passing a weak-but-better-than-nothing bill by wide, wide margins.  At the very least, it required annual inspections of around 48,000 toxic tanks.  It was signed by hilariously hick-named Governor Earl Ray Tomblin, who had proposed even less oversight of chemical storage facilities.  A milquetoast victory is still a victory, no?

Well, apparently, it was too much for DuPont, Dow, Bayer, and other polluters…sorry, industry leaders.

Now, this week, West Virginia’s legislature is on the verge of passing a new bill that significantly weakens the weak law.  Yeah, it seems that 75 percent of the above-ground tanks that were targeted for inspection don’t need it at all.  That leaves 12,000, which is actually an optimistic number because the bill contains more exemptions that could lower the number much further. For instance, if you say your tank of toxic goo is associated with oil drilling or coal mining, you can use an exemption.

The bill that amends the law, which had amended a previous law, changes the definition for what tanks need to be inspected: “larger tanks, tanks with more dangerous contents and tanks located within the ‘zone of critical concern,’ which runs to five hours upstream from drinking-water intakes, and those tanks defined by a new term, the ‘zone of peripheral concern,’ which goes about 10 hours upstream from water intakes.”  Obviously, “zone that poisons the shit out of ground water and soil” is not included.

By the way, the original proposed amendment would have reduced the number of tanks inspected to just 100.  Those exempted would have included 1,100 that failed inspection last year.  When you think about the roughly 80,000 above ground storage tanks in West Virginia (a bunch were already exempt in the first place), 1,100 doesn’t seem like much.  But the Elk River and 300,000 people were fucked by a single leaking tank that was over 60 years-old.

It doesn’t matter.  It didn’t matter that a priest from the West Virginia Catholic Conference told a hearing that clean drinking water is given to humans by God himself.  And it sure as hell didn’t matter that someone from the Sierra Club spoke, too.  Not when the vice president of the West Virginia Coal Association, among others from business groups, all well-noted for their care of the environment, were for the changes to the law.  The bill, one version of which sailed through the House, squeaked out of a Senate committee, with some voting against it because it was still too pro-clean water.  It will more than likely pass the Senate this week.

Speaking loquaciously, a local Democratic consultant said, “To say that this bill protects drinking water is like saying Colonel Sanders protects the chickens.”  The problem is that there’s always some idiot telling us how the Colonel takes good care of his chickens on the way to slaughter and that the chickens should be happy about it.

Editor’s Note: This essay originally appeared on March 10, 2015, on The Rude Pundit, a website featuring commentary by Lee Papa.  It was reproduced here with the consent of Mr. Papa.

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