I’m assuming that you’ve read about the massive chemical spill last month that contaminated water in West Virginia. Weeks later, the 300,000 residents of the Kanawha Valley still can’t get a straight story about whether or not it’s okay to drink the water. No matter how you try to spin it, it’s clear that this event occurred because of under-regulation as well as wilful lack of enforcement of the few regulations that are actually on the books. It’s not as if the risk wasn’t known since “the U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement warned in a 2009 report that state environmental regulators were not taking effective action to reduce spills from coal mining operations.”
Today, I’m sure that you will be as thrilled as I was to learn that there’s now a Missouri angle in West Virginia’s on-going water contamination story. Namely, an operation of St. Louis based Patriot Coal, the Peabody Coal spin-off, experienced a coal slurry spill that released more than 100,000 gallons of coal slurry
poured into an eastern Kanawha County stream.
Although at this early point the spill seems to be much more limited than the earlier one, officials described it as having a “significant environmental impact.” It’s worth noting at this juncture that there are indications of laxity on the part of Patriot Coal:
A slurry line ruptured at the Kanawha Eagle Prep Plant near Winifrede, W. Va., south of Charleston, between midnight and 5:30 a.m. Tuesday, the state agency said. Workers shut down slurry pumps after the break was discovered and the spill was reported to authorities just after 7:30 a.m., the agency said. Coal slurry contains solid and liquid waste from the coal preparation process.
Dale Petry, director of emergency services for Kanawha County, told the Charleston Gazette that the spill should have been reported more promptly. “I need to know about it a little bit sooner,” he said.
State regulators said the chemical company responsible for the Jan. 9 MCHM spill did not promptly report the incident and did not take effective measures to control the spill. State and federal officials have been harshly criticized by health experts and local residents, among others, for inconsistent and confusing statements about the safety hazards of the chemical spill.
It’s also worth noting that Patriot Coal is not friendly to the idea of environment regulation. The company, which has been in bankruptcy, attributed its problems – along with efforts to stiff its union employees by cutting retirees pensions – at least in part, to the onerous burden imposed by “environmental regulation.” In case you’re inclined to feel sorry for Patriot Coals’ hard luck story, you should also be aware that at the time they were also trying to get the bankruptcy court to approve of bonuses for the company CEOs that ranged from between 11 and 45 percent of their salaries.
It’s also worth noting in passing that Missouri Republican Senator Roy Blunt is among the four politicians who received the biggest campaign donations from Patriot Coal in 2010 (along with failed candidate Todd Akin). Blunt is pretty blunt, so to speak, about how he regards environmental regulation; he doesn’t like it. He’s a frontline fighter against EPA regulations. Last year he sponsored the Regulatory Improvement Act of 2013, which a press release defined as “legislation to streamline, consolidate, and repeal onerous and costly government regulations in order to reduce compliance costs, encourage growth and innovation, and improve competitiveness.” A Wall Street Journal op-ed declared that it would “liberate American business.” Although Blunt claimed that the law would not be used to constrain environmental protections, he used tactics similar to the provisions of the bill to try to neutralize the regulatory function of the EPA.
What I would suggest is that next time you hear coal company CEOs and their paid-for politicians jawing about “onerous” environmental regulation that they claim stifles innovation, job growth, competiveness, mom and apple pie, you stop and think about those folks in West Virginia who have been living with contaminated water since Jan. 9th and still don’t know when or if the situation will improve. Also, maybe give a thought to Patriot coal, which just added a fillip of injury to the greater insult suffered by the citizens of West Virginia.
Update: Think Progress has photos of the Patriot spill – pretty ugly stuff.