Editorial: State Failed to Protect Citizens
15 January 2014
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The decrepit Freedom Industries tank farm
beside Elk River hadn't been visited by state inspectors since
1991 -- almost a quarter-century ago -- before it tainted the
water supply of 300,000 West Virginians.
Why? What's wrong with the state's public protection systems? Are
laws inadequate to deal with industrial dangers? Is enforcement
Charleston reformer lawyer Jim Lees wrote Wednesday:
"For the past decade, I have watched politician after politician
in West Virginia bow down to industry-led efforts for less
regulation and less oversight -- Jay Rockefeller being the
Lees said West Virginians deserve safe drinking water, just like
all other Americans. And it's up to state leaders to impose
controls to guarantee it. Amen.
Time after time, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board urged West
Virginia to adopt an "audit" system in which teams of independent
health and safety experts examine plants and facilities to spot
threats. But the proposal was ignored. Why?
Rep. Shelley Capito, R-W.Va., said Tuesday she supports the audit
plan. Other West Virginians in Congress are working on federal
safeguards. Sen. Joe Manchin wants U.S. regulators to rate the
health danger of 84,000 less-known chemicals. "My God," he said,
"you've got thousands and thousands of products that have come
online that are totally, you know, unevaluated."
Gov. Tomblin says he's working with Department of Environmental
Protection Secretary Randy Huffman to draft new safety plans. It's
too bad that it took a public crisis to prod officialdom into
action -- but we're glad it's finally happening. Protecting West
Virginians from this sort of menace should be the top priority of
the 2014 Legislature.
The New Republic published a blunt report saying Elk River
supplies a wide section of West Virginia because mining has
"contaminated local water sources throughout the state's southern
and central regions, driving more and more West Virginians to
board up their wells and lay pipe to the Elk River." Ironically,
it was a mining chemical that caused the Elk crisis.
In 2009, four citizen groups complained to federal agencies about
"the state's capitulation to the industries it is obligated to
regulate under the Clean Water Act." Their complaint also was
All these topics should be examined by legislators.
The 2014 water mess inflicted severe disruption on eight counties,
forcing closure of restaurants and some businesses, wasting
government money, leaving school pupils stranded in limbo. How
many children couldn't get school breakfasts and lunches they
needed? How many parents couldn't go to work because their kids
were out of school?
This huge headache is a wake-up call for the Legislature to make
major reforms in safeguards to protect West Virginians.