I am writing to express my deep concern about the Elk River chemical spill and subsequent water emergency. This disaster has impacted hundreds of thousands of citizens of this state; forced hundreds of businesses to close their doors and their employees to go without pay; and effectively shut down the state legislature and Capitol complex for the better part of a week. The negative economic impacts of this disaster cannot be overstated, and its consequences for community and environmental health may not be fully understood for years or even decades to come.
This is a completely unacceptable occurrence in the United State of America in the 21st century. The people of West Virginia should never again be made to bear the burden of inadequate environmental regulations and lax enforcement caused by an entrenched system of political corruption and graft at the behest of extractive resource industries such as coal and natural gas.
Freedom Industries should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law for its negligence in improperly storing its products and failing to safely maintain its facilities. But fault for this disaster also lies with the state's underfunded, poorly motivated and arguably inept Department of Environmental Protection. Time and again, this agency fails to uphold its mission of protecting the state's environmental resources. A lax regulatory atmosphere, promulgated by powerful industry lobbyists and accepted as status quo by our local and state government agencies, has led directly to a situation in which chemicals of unknown toxicity are stored and shipped on and near our public waterways without monitoring or oversight.
Ultimately, the blame for this disaster must be placed at the feet of our elected officials, who have failed to pass the laws needed to protect our health, communities, and environment. The coal, gas and chemical industries have for too long used their massive economic and political powers to manipulate, bribe, coerce and wrangle our so-called public servants to do their bidding rather than protecting the best interests of their constituents.
The citizens of West Virginia must demand new legislation for stronger environmental regulations and increased funding for enforcement efforts. The sordid era of collusion between industry and government must end if we are to have any hope for positive change in the future of our beloved state. Talk to your elected officials, write to your local media outlets, and go to the ballot box to let your voices be heard. It's time to take back West Virginia! In solidarity,Autumn Long lives in Wallace.