West Virginia Chemical Spill

As I usually do with disasters I've held off commentary on the West Virginia chemical spill until more information came to light. Although we are still seeing this situation play out it is fair to say that this is yet another example of a complete failure of industry and government. I'll admit that I am a bit hopeless when it comes to government and industry ever taking on any kind of responsibility for these types of events. I came to this conclusion following the response to the BP Oil Disaster in 2010. It occurred to me that if an event that is that widely televised (I mean really, a LIVE cam played on CNN 24/7 literally showing the oil gushing into the ocean for weeks) doesn't result in meaningful industry and policy changes a chemical spill in West Virginia isn't going to come close to putting on the pressure.

It occurred to me around this time that, like most other things in emergency management, a cultural shift needs to happen. Pardon my liberalism but The People need to protest, to fight back against the anti-intellectualism and the anti-piss-off-the-corporations that permeates our current government. I've forgotten now who suggested it but the members of congress should be wearing race car jackets with their sponsors/ funders displayed on their sleeves. But it's more than who we vote for.

I was living in New Orleans during the BP disaster. In fact I was working with an environmental nonprofit at the time and had contact/ planned events with several other community advocacy groups in the city and Grand Isle. The residents that were in the fishing industry were standing there at every event protesting BP and lack of government oversight but the residents who worked for the oil companies, the rig workers and refinery workers, they weren't standing there. Privately they would tell you they supported the advocacy work but they couldn't speak out against BP. Simply put they'd have been out of a job. This paradox of livelihoods being dependent on the destruction of your home is not new. It occurs all the time all over the world but I do think that people are more cognizant of this notion now than in the past. This isn't to say that this massive cultural shift that I've envisioned is in anyway upon us but I do think we're moving in that direction.

I've found that I have a fellow conspirator on this notion. This West Virginian wrote this heart-wrenching post on his blog about the situation. I've quoted a few bits below but the entire post is definitely worth the read.

On industry:

"To hell with you all for continuing, as coal became chemical, to exploit the lax, poorly-enforced safety regulations here, so that you could do your business in the cheapest manner possible by shortcutting the health and quality of life not only of your workers, but of everybody who lives here.  To hell with every operator who ever referred to West Virginians as “our neighbors.”"

On politicians:

"To hell with every single screwjob elected official and politico under whose watch it all went on, who helped write those lax regulations and then turned away when even those weren’t followed.  To hell with you all, who were supposed to be stewards of the public interest, and who sold us out for money, for political power.  To hell with every one of you who decided that making life convenient for business meant making life dangerous for us.  To hell with you for making us the eggs you had to break in order to make breakfast."

On culture:

"To hell with all of my fellow West Virginians who bought so deeply into the idea of avoidable personal risk and constant sacrifice as an honorable condition under which to live, that they turned that condition into a culture of perverted, twisted pride and self-righteousness, to be celebrated and defended against outsiders.  To hell with that insular, xenophobic pathology.  To hell with everyone whose only take-away from every story about every explosion, every leak, every mine collapse, is some vague and idiotic vanity in the continued endurance of West Virginians under adverse, sometimes killing circumstances.  To hell with everyone everywhere who ever mistook suffering for honor, and who ever taught that to their kids.  There’s nothing honorable about suffering."