Newsflash:
Issues Economic and Social Justice The Robin Hood Tax Stop Global Warming If we don't put people before profits, spills like West Virginia are our future
Friday, 31 January 2014 17:37

If we don't put people before profits, spills like West Virginia are our future

Written by  Jeff Biggers | The Guardian
Crews clean up a chemical spill along the Elk river in Charleston, West Virginia. Crews clean up a chemical spill along the Elk river in Charleston, West Virginia. Tyler Evert/AP

Stronger regulation of the coal and chemical industries are the only way to ensure clean water and healthy communities

The dirty secret in President Obama's "all-of-the-above" energy policy was quietly overlooked in his State of the Union address.

Photos of West Virginia residents trying to move on after the chemical spill 

Three weeks after global media attention on the West Virginia coal-chemical disaster, the most important line of information still remains buried in an AP report:

…[A] review of federal environmental enforcement records shows that nearly three-quarters of the 1,727 coal mines listed haven't been inspected in the past five years to see if they are obeying water pollution laws. Also, 13% of the fossil-fuel fired power plants are not complying with the Clean Water Act.

Translation: with federal and state blessing, the coal industry under President Obama is free to operate in a continual state of violation.

In the meantime, in the latest episode in West Virginia's coal-chemical debacle, state officials announced on Wednesday that residents affected by the latest coal-chemical disaster are inhaling formaldehyde, a known carcinogen.

"There is never peace in West Virginia," labor organizer Mary "Mother" Jones famously said nearly 100 years ago, "because there is never justice."

Our president and nation must get beyond a crisis management approach to the coal industry, and come to grips with the double-headed source of the recent Elk River disaster – lax and unenforced regulations for coal mining and chemical operations, and the stranglehold of industry lobbies over public officials in charge of regulation. Otherwise, the Obama administration's "all-of-the-above" policy will simply extend a bitter legacy in coal country: there will never be clean water in West Virginia, because there is never justice.

Sure, hearings and investigations will be held, legislation introduced, an unenforced regulation or two added, a corporate official might be fined or even go to jail, but the truth is that toxic waters from various stages of coal mining will continue to flow with costly and devastating health effects – until public officials and their appointees are barred from accepting political contributions from the very industries they regulate.

This may sound hyperbolic, and certainly naïve – but I write after years of covering coal ash pond breakages, coal slurry disasters, and water-contamination issues from strip-mining discharges and the subsequent lack of regulatory action.

I also write from experience: my grandfather was a coal miner in southern Illinois, who barely survived a mining disaster in an age of regulatory corruption, struggled with black lung disease (a preventable coal dust inhalation malady that was first diagnosed in 1831) that still kills around four coal miners daily. My grandfather's 150-year-old farm in the Shawnee National Forest area, was eventually stripmined and the local creek left sterile from mining discharges.

I have learned two things from the treatment of my grandfather and residents in today's coal mining communities: in a nation that prioritizes coal industry profits over workplace and residential safety, people are as disposable as our natural resources in openly accepted national sacrifice zones. And secondly, all coal mining safety laws have been written in miners' blood; the same is true for innocent citizens afflicted by clean water violations by coal and chemical companies.

A commentary I wrote in jest five years ago now seems deadly serious: Coal Ash Crisis Management – What's It Going to Take, Dead Bodies?

Five years after the historic Tennessee Valley Authority coal ash pond disaster, when arsenic-laced ash flooded into eastern Tennessee waterways, EPA officials finally agreed this week to a settle a law suit and issue federal regulations by the end of the year for coal ash disposal. Over 1,000 toxic coal ash dumpsites simmer today, like accidents waiting to happen.

Four years after the New York Times exposed the harrowing reality of coal slurry injections contaminating underground watersheds and drinking wells in Prenter, West Virginia, where an extraordinary corridor of brain tumors, cancer and other problems have devastated a community, coal states like Illinois continue to green-light the same process of injecting deadly coal slurry into the watersheds of its residents.

Three years after citizens groups in Kentucky found over 20,000 incidences of unreported Clean Water Act violations from coal mining operations in eastern Kentucky – hailed as "Clean Watergate" due to the state of Kentucky's lack of oversight – reckless strip mining operations continue to destroy the Cumberland waterways without end.

Two years after the US Geological survey found that mountaintop removal operations have adverse impacts on surrounding soil and water and over 20 other peer-reviewed studies conducted over a decade have enumerated the impact on the health of neighboring communities (which include birth defects and cancer) – mountaintop removal operations continue unabated in central Appalachia.

The history of regulating the US coal industry, especially in terms of clean water violations, is riddled by a stunning anatomy of denial in every generation.

Still, a decades-long resistance continues by impacted residents to protect their health, livelihoods and civil rights. Fed up with state and federal inaction, residents living under mountaintop removal operations have even launched their own bill – the Appalachian Communities Health Emergency Act – in Congress for a moratorium on the massive strip mining operations until proper health assessments are made.

Over 30 years ago, I lugged a pail of discolored water from a well in the back hollers of Bailey Mountain in West Virginia. I followed a trail of coal dust until I reached an elderly woman's front porch, only a few hundred feet away from a strip mine. The smell of the water made me gag.

When I was first informed by West Virginia friends of the 9 January coal-cleaning chemical disaster, the black waters of Bailey Mountain and the inexorable clash between coal and clean water returned to me with a bitter taste.

West Virginia has been drinking contaminated water for decades. And it always will – unless the nation decides to end our denial of the ever mounting health and human costs of the coal industry, launch a coalfields regeneration transition plan, and finally bring justice to the coalfields.

 

Original article on The Guardian

Read 4883 times

Robin Hood Tax Articles

  • Could This Tax on Wall Street Turn Back America’s Tide of Inequality?
    Could This Tax on Wall Street Turn Back America’s Tide of Inequality?

    How will you honor the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. this April 4, the anniversary of his assassination? How about by demanding that Congress get out of Wall Street’s pocket? How about by letting your representative know that you support economic equality and a just distribution of wealth in America? As Dr. King himself said, “This is America’s opportunity to help bridge the gulf between the haves and the have-nots. The question is whether America will do it. There is nothing new about poverty. What is new is that we now have the techniques and the resources to get rid of poverty. The real question is whether we have the will.”

    Written on Monday, 31 March 2014 23:57 Read more...
  • Targeting Wall Street, Robin Hood Tax Comes to Washington
    Targeting Wall Street, Robin Hood Tax Comes to Washington

    With Congress about to begin the next cycle of budget battles – mostly focused on how much more pain to inflict on Main Street communities across America – a far different message is bubbling up across the land.

    Written on Wednesday, 30 October 2013 23:08 Read more...
  • The Robin Hood Tax
    The Robin Hood Tax

    Simply put, the big idea behind the Robin Hood Tax is to generate hundreds of billions of dollars.  That money could provide funding for jobs to kickstart the economy and get America back on its feet. It could help save the social safety net here and around the world.  And it will come from fairer taxation of the financial sector.

    Written on Friday, 25 October 2013 15:41 Read more...
  • European Commission Approves “Robin Hood” Tax on Financial Transactions
    European Commission Approves “Robin Hood” Tax on Financial Transactions The European Commission yesterday backed plans by 11 European Union economies to impose a “Robin Hood” financial transaction tax, better known as a Tobin tax, to help raise funds to tackle the region’s growing debt crisis.
    Written on Wednesday, 24 October 2012 16:53 Read more...

Does Your Legislator Support the Robin Hood Tax?

Sign the ERA Petition

ERADemandButton

On Friday, September 12th more than 150 activists will go to DC and Demand that their Senators and Representatives support removing the ratification deadline from the ERA (SJ Res 15 and HJ Res 113)

Button-SignERAPetition

Sign the Petition - Sen. Sanders Run as a Democrat in 2016

Button-SandersPetition

Sign the TPP Fast Track Petitions

MoveOn.org Petition - Congress Don't Renew Fast Track

Public Citizen Petition - Congress Must Reject Fast Track Authority

MoveOn.org Petition - Stop the Trans Pacific Partnership

CREDO Petition - Stop the Massive Corporate Power Grab

 

Find Your Elected Officials for Issues

Enter your zip+4 and find your elected officials. This link provides name, address and phone number

ButtonFindElectedOfficials

 

Like Robin Hood Tax on Facebook

The Robin Hood Tax

Robin Hood Tax: John Nichols and Keith Ellison and Michael Lighty

Why The Robin Hood Tax