Mudcat Café message #3136681 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #101515   Message #3136681
Posted By: Janie
16-Apr-11 - 11:32 PM
Thread Name: King Coal Dumping on Jean Ritchie and ALL OF US!
Subject: RE: King Coal Dumping on Jean Ritchie and ALL OF US!
Maybe even more off-topic, gnu, but the same can be said for the building of roads in West Virginia. The building of the railroads, the WV Turnpike, and later, the interstate and "corridor" system of roads built nearly to interstate standards required innovative development and pioneering of engineering technologies later used throughout the world. Bad for the environment in many cases, but good for mobility, and also resulted in the better standards of living, including health care, that accessibility brings.

West Virginia is unique in that it is the only State that is completely within the rugged terrain of the Appalachian mountains and plateau. This has huge significance in terms of culture and economy, and has, for the most part, meant that marketable natural resources (lumber, coal and natural gas,) have been the only realistic means of livelihood in the region since it was settled by Europeans. Even pre-European populations of Native Americans did not tend to establish settlements there. It was hunting grounds for a number of tribes, but home base for none after the "Mound Builders."

I grew up in the Kanawha Valley in the 1950's and 60's. Pre EPA and environmental laws.   Chemical Valley.    Isolated as we were, during the Cold War and time of nuclear proliferation and testing, the Kanawha Valley was considered a prime target for nuclear attack. We were among the three top concentrations for the US chemical industry. Union Carbide, Monsanto, I.E. Dupont and FMC had plants all up and down the Kanawha River. I don't recall, but some of them may have had their Corporate headquarters located there. The air stank. The water in the Kanawha was a chemical cesspool and was undrinkable. Even though the waterworks were on Elk River, the backflow from the Kanawha into the Elk often made the water taste and smell so bad we couldn't drink it, and occasionally, even in the absence of the standards we have today, there would be advisories to not drink tap water due to chemical spills that had backed up into the Elk.

Environmental laws changed much of that beginning in the 70's. The air never stinks. I still wouldn't eat anything caught in the Kanawha, but fish other than carp and catfish do live and thrive there now. The water from the Elk, while still silty from the long, long history of timbering along it's long flow, does not get seriously contaminated by chemical backflow from the Kanawha, and never stinks coming out of the tap, or has an "off" color.

Most of the chemical plants are gone - moved overseas to places where it is still legal to pollute heavily, where they are even welcomed as economic engines, as they once were in the Kanawha Valley. The jobs went with them, as well as the environmental disaster.

Remember the Union Carbide Bhopal disaster? The methyl isocynate leak that killed thousands of people in India? 3 miles from my mother's house, where I grew up, there is an underground storage facility where, until just a few years ago, large amounts of methyl isocynate was stored. The stockpile is now greatly diminished, and as the result of a law suit, will soon be entirely gone, moved to I know not where, but assuredly to a Third World country with little or no enironmental law. The original stockpile belonged to Union Carbide. Driven by our own national environmental laws, not matched in India, at least at the time, Union Carbide had moved most of it's production of this lethal chemical to Bhopal. They were still storing it in my back yard, so to speak, but were no longer manufacturing it in my backyard at the time of that terrible disaster.   Soon after that disaster, Union Carbide sold it's operations in the Kanawha Valley to a French company, now in the process of also closing down operations there due to environmental regulations and public concern. There is significant public debate now about the number of jobs that will be lost when the storage facility completely shuts down, vs concern about the number of people who will find themselves unemploed in the near future.

FMC and Monsanto are long gone. IE Dupont remains, though a much diminished presence. Union Carbide may still have some operations in the Valley. I'm uncertain about that. Thousands of jobs in the Kanawha Valley have been lost over the past 35 years. Not gone, but moved overseas where people desparately need work and where environmental laws are virtually non-existent.

Cost-shifting, in every sense of the word.

I venture to guess the major industry in West Virginia now is health care. As the coal mines became more mechanized, the chemical industry moved overseas,, and the timber all got cut, the demographics of the state shifted and WV now has a much higher than national average percentage of population over 65. Hell, I've been gone 26 years - as tax dollars dried up, a social worker like me had to move on to keep working. I am still well plugged into friends and family in WV, and also pay some attention to economic and census data and the trends they reflect. My nephew, about to finish up his medical residency on Long Island, is the only person I have heard from in a very long time who is moving back - landed a job in the Kanawha Valley with no problem and as already bought a house in Charleston. Non eof his friends, none of the children of my old friends, or their grandchildren are staying or returning.

Good for the local and regional environment. Bad for the economy of WV and for the culture there.

It is a big world, at least from some perspectives. In terms of regional and national environment, West Virginia's economic and cultural losses represent a regional and national environmental gain. If one comprehends how small this globe is, however, there are no winners. Some other countries on the other side of the globe, (i.e. many families and individuals who previously barely managed subsistence living,) benefit in the short term, but will pay the same, or perhaps an even dearer price as their environment becomes increasingly toxic. Other very third world countries are already reaping the short term economic benefits and the long term detriments of a toxic environment from the reality of environmental protections that exist in first world countries but not other places.

In otherwords, at this point in time, I don't see any net gain globally.

Where ever one lives, whatever one's perspective, there are choices to be made that will have profound effects around the globe.

Pardon my eyeglazing ramblings.

Janie