It’s curious against whom the “War on Coal” really is.
You might ask the 300,000 residents of Charleston, W.Va. who are being trucked emergency bottles of water because the spill of a toxic chemical used to help prepare coal has polluted their drinking water.
As many as 5,000 gallons of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol or Crude MCHM leaked from a tank owned by Freedom Industries just up the Elk River from the treatment plant where Greater Charleston gets its drinking water.
Executives of the chemical plant have apologized but, hey, it’s just another instance of raw environmental disregard in the Appalachians, including West Virginia, eastern Kentucky and southwest Virginia. About 15 years ago, then Richmond-based Massey Energy ended up with an underground spill at an abandoned mine in eastern Kentucky that fouled the Tug Fork and then the Ohio Rivers.
One lawyer told me the spill was four times that of the Deepwater Horizon well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico four years ago. But the British Petroleum disaster got a lot more media attention. So did the fact that it killed 11 people. About three weeks before, a blast at an underground mine at Upper Big Branch owned by Massey Energy in West Virginia killed 29 miners, but, hey, they’re miners and as such, didn’t get as much attention.
If you want to see one of the crudest collection of pollution potential in this country, head west on Interstate 64 on the West Virginia Turnpike. Once you get over the mountains and into the Kanawha River valley, you’ll see mile after mile of chemical factory and coal prep plant lining the narrow river.
West Virginia got into chemicals because it was a natural fit with coal and the steel industry nearby. The valley was also a favorite place to make munitions in World Wars I and II since it was far from ocean shores and considered safe.
Corrupt politicians were more than willing to look away when it came to dumping the plant stuff (the Elk River flows into the Kanawha at Charleston). It goes for mountains, too, if you consider the devastation of mountaintop removal.
The irony of it all is that King Coal and its minions have been screaming about the “War on Coal” waged by Barack Obama for his supposed over-regulation.
If anything, Obama and Mountain State regulators haven’t regulated enough, as the spill tends to show.
Imagine if Greater Richmond or Northern Virginia could not drink tap water because it might cause nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. You see an outcry everywhere. But hey, it’s West Virginia we’re talking about.
Galuszka is author of “Thunder on the Mountain: Death at Massey and the Dirty Secrets Behind Big Coal,” St. Martin’s Press, 2012.