February 11, 2014
“The Chemical Spill Legislation,” that’s what I am calling it… because the legislation currently making its way through the West Virginia State Legislature calling for tighter inspections of above ground containers stems from the recent chemical spill in Charleston, West Virginia.
First, something needs to be done. I am entirely in agreement with this. Our water supply is our most valuable resource.
What I am afraid of happening however, is that we’re about to see a knee-jerk reaction to this problem and it won’t be what it should be. I am afraid we’re creating a monster that is potentially not going to be funded, or probably under-funded and with another potential to lose even more funding if the targets of the “inspections” go away, by that I mean the chemical companies.
If we impose a fee to inspect facilities, those facilities should expect professional and competent assessments with proper safety protocols in place to immediately shut down facilities capable of catastrophic failure.
Alternatively, we have to create legislation with actual teeth. We need to be able to actually “do something” in a pro-active manner that benefits the community and doesn’t unfairly hinder industry. By enacting Legislation, we must make sure the Legislation is not just reactionary to the troubles at hand, but actually proactively addresses the problems in a manner that is sustainable over time, perhaps for a long time in the future.
Regulation is a tricky business. Government walks a thin line between choking commerce and regulating different industries.
If we provide a quality inspection service that allows industry the proper leeway to make situational mitigation without undue burden in the form of fines and other non-judicial punishment, we can work with industry to accomplish the goal at hand. However, if we go head-strong into this situation hell-bent on “making them pay” for what’s transpired over the last month, we’re in for a rude awakening and in the long run, we’ll lose more and more of these companies that provide the jobs that allow us to stay in West Virginia.
Industry doesn’t need to be in West Virginia in order to develop their products. True, the facilities in place at the chemical plants make an inviting call toward the CEOs of chemical companies, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we’re the only place on earth where these companies can do their work. These industrial corporations can simply move out of our State to another with a friendlier environment for productivity. Our business climate is one of the worst in the nation, despite any rhetoric you might hear about West Virginia being “Open for Business”. “Open for Business” was a term misapplied by the previous Governor toward the commercial atmosphere of West Virginia, to the point of being the butt of many jokes for several years. By all accepted standard publications on the matter, West Virginia is open for business because we’re at the bottom of the barrel; businesses are leaving the State at a much greater pace than they’re entering. We’re “open” because we have vacancies.
Please do not construe out of any of this that we should abandon any attempts to regulate what goes into our water. That’s far from the case. Most importantly, I thoroughly believe that there should be no chance that any contamination should ever occur, however, I am also a realist and I understand that with commerce such as chemical production, we will always have a chance, however slight, of groundwater contamination on some level.
And let us not forget, without the help of politicians, the local public water works that we had in the past, would not have been consolidated to the Elk River location. While I make no claim that West Virginia American Water holds any serious culpability for the recent chemical leak, there are thoughts to be considered regarding “putting all of our eggs into one basket”. I have attended several “anti-terrorism” type classes through my volunteer work in the fire service. During these classes, we were trained on watching for potential threats at our water sources, our electrical sub-stations and electrical production facilities, gas production facilities, etc. etc. We learned of the military efforts to spread-out their supplies and the supply system of FEMA and their “caches” of supplies stored at various locations across the country. Many of these efforts emphasized the fact that electrical production facilities make easy targets because the facilities are all contained within a very limited area, or as I said previously “all of the eggs are in one basket”.
By consolidating the smaller, more individualized local water works from several areas spread out among many counties, we have effectively created this “eggs in one basket” scenario without regard to the same security measures that are currently in place at our country’s electrical power grid facilities. Have you ever wandered upon the grounds of John Amos or Mount Storm? Neither have I, but I’ve read stories. Needless to say, security is tight. So why isn’t security as tight for our water production? The very real answer to that is, how can we protect the miles and miles of river banks that encompass the water sources? It’s virtually impossible to do so. To continue this train of thought, one might suppose that we could spread out the facilities and allow our water to be produced in various locations, making it more difficult for such an occurrence to happen again… yes, for a chemical spill, that is correct to a certain degree, however, with the coal mining, gas and oil drilling and manufacturing of other chemicals and products elsewhere, spreading out the water works doesn’t necessarily mean it is 100% firewalled from anything else happening. What about physical security at the water treatment facilities? Do they even have a security team? Are they pro-active or re-active? Are they stationed overlooking the incoming water source so they could at least witness discoloration, an abundance of incoming dead animals or fish? Are they armed? Does the water company have a means to continually test for chemical contaminants? Biological contaminants? Does a bell ring? What’s the procedure? Why don’t I already know this?
I love this State. I am a Mountaineer, through and through. I also understand what’s made this State and its people, what it is today: our resources, mining coal, drilling for oil/gas and logging. While some might say the coal barons or the timber barons robbed WV of its resources, exploiting the mountains, etc. etc. we were in the midst of the industrial revolution followed by World War II, the need of the country outweighed the need of a single, low populous state. This tends to irritate people; however, the following tends to irritate more: West Virginia is a fossil fuel and timber state, you and your forefathers are here because of the need to support the coal, oil, gas and timber industries. Without these industries, we could not sustain our lives in these Appalachian hills. Name a commercial or industrial product that is produced in this state that could sustain our economy if it were not for the coal, gas, oil or timber industries. Name one. I did not say you could include service industries. Service industries by definition cannot sustain a community. You must PRODUCE something in order to service those that labor for the production. Without the production labor force, you have no one to service.
Since the 1970’s, America has become more and more “service industry” oriented. It’s an unsustainable model that is slowly killing our economy. I won’t dip deeper into this subject, but the ramifications from this trend are evident in everyday life. That being said and taking a lot of leeway in my writing, I submit to you the crux of this meandering thoughts-on-paper:
We MUST do something, but we must do something in a logical manner that is sustainable over time. We must not allow raw emotion to fuel the fire by which we place pen to paper while drafting legislation. We must consider all points to this elaborate puzzle and put in place a cohesive strategy that bonds all elements together without the vagarities normally seen in legislation. When the “stake holders” get together, there’s sometimes an outcome that makes politicians look good, when in reality, causes even more trouble when the application of the regulations are applied in a manner that doesn’t sit well with those that are on the receiving end of the regulation.
We can all sit back on our high-horses and state “…if they don’t like being regulated, well that’s just too bad, we’ll do it anyway.” That does nothing but create an environment of hostility that drives business and industry away. As it stands, we can’t allow more business to leave or we’re going to wind up a ghost town like so many other “resource communities” of the old west, a dry and desolate place with plenty to look at and no one there to view it.
West Madison, W.Va.