Why have tea-partying conservatives stayed mum about the hazardous chemical spill in West Virginia? Maybe because they'd look monumentally stupid if they hewed to their convictions and said, "This incident, while regrettable, is further proof that what we need in America is less government regulation."

Seriously, they should say that, because West Virginia is truly a tea party nirvana, a state where the coal-related industries run rampant and the government overseers are wilfully blind as bats.

Granted, 7500 gallons of something called 4-methylcyclohexane methanol (also known as crude MCHM) spilled into the Elk River because the chemical was stored on the riverbank; and, granted, roughly 300,000 West Virginians in nine counties (16 percent of the state population) had no drinking, cleaning, and bathing water; and, granted, roughly 169 people have been treated for exposure and 14 have wound up in the hospital - but hey, isn't this the price we oughta pay for freedom? Compliments of the aptly named Freedom Industries?

Tea-partying conservatives should be darn proud of West Virginia, because for years the state has faithfully echoed their ethos. State regulators last inspected the riverbank site in 1991 and 2002 - before Freedom Industries took it over to house its coal-processing chemical. State regulators didn't even know what crude MCHM was, or what health risks it posed, or how to treat it, until it was already in the water.

Three years ago, federal officials at the U.S. Chemical Safety Board urged the state to end its lax oversight and launch a "Hazardous Chemical Release Prevention Program," but the state didn't bother to respond. Freedom Industries didn't need to demonstrate that its storage facility was safe, or that it was wise to store on a riverbank, because the state only regulates chemical processing, not storage. Indeed, Freedom Industries only needed one state permit for the site; as Randy Huffman, the state's top environmental official, described it on CNN, "Basically, they had to monitor the runoff from the rain."

But now that they're stuck with Spillgate - an event arguably as important as the George Washington Bridge scandal, byt drawing far less media attention because it's in flyover country - top West Virginians are suddenly singing a brand new tune. (How do you define a West Virginia progressive? It's a small-government conservative who can't use his own shower.)

Huffman says, "There's not necessarily the kind of robust environmental controls that people might anticipate that there should be." Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, a heretofore industry-friendly Democrat, is suddenly saying, "We need to do what we can to see that this kind of incident never happens again. There's no excuse for it." And Jeffrey Kessler, president of the West Virginia Senate, is saying, "People always beat the drum about too much government regulation. My goodness, there are 300,000 people I guarantee wish they had a little more regulation.”

Funny how the tea-party groups haven't uttered a peep about any of this.

Isn't this a swell opportunity for them to stand tall against calls for "a little more regulation?" Presumably, they still believe that their laissez faire ideology trumps the health and safety of 300,000 people, so why not come out and say it? Some lawmakers in Washington are talking about closing loopholes in the 1976 federal Toxic Substances Control Act - thus giving the feds more basic info, and giving the EPA more sway, over a lot more chemicals, including crude MCHM - so isn't this a perfect time for tea partyers to stamp their feet in principled opposition? How about some new TV ads, bankrolled by the Koch brothers, bemoaning the evils of government regulation?

Nah, I guess timing is all wrong. Better to wait until everyone forgets what happened (again) in West Virginia. For now, we only have news items like this, from a region where the water ban remains in effect:

At the Harvest Time Church of God, which shelters about 25 men, Jess Inclenrock, the pastor, said they were making do without showers. “We just keep our arms down,” he said. “When we worship, we keep our hands below our shoulders, you know.” He mimicked the gesture of waving his open hands without raising them above his shoulders. “Hallelujah.”

Guarding against armpit odor...Now that's the kind of self-reliant anti-regulation gumption that government haters can really swing with.

 


 

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