“Job-Killing” Environmental Regulation? (Part 2)

Yesterday, I took a close look at Speaker John Boehner’s answer to the call for better regulation of polluters, after Freedom Industries’ disastrous chemical spill in West Virginia. Boehner declared that we already have enough laws to protect Americans from pollution, and that those regulations kill American jobs. I borrowed heavily from the work of Christians for the Mountains and their response to the spill that contaminated the drinking water for 300,000 West Virginians.

In the end, we saw that there was little, if any, regulation of the infamous West Virginia polluter, due partly to inadequate laws, and partly to the Congressional de-funding of regulators. And we showed that there are many ways to kill jobs and depress the economy, including poisoning the environment.

I thought I had pretty much exhausted the links between Freedom Industries and cynical claims about “job-killing regulation.” That was until Allen Johnson, leader of Christians for the Mountains, sent me a couple of pictures that he snapped while driving by Freedom Industries the other day. Here’s the first:

obamanojobszonewestvaplanetgore91912Nothing too unusual about this. The coal industry plasters highway billboards all over Appalachia bewailing efforts to develop renewable energy or to make them pay some of the costs of their pollution. Since coal is no longer competitive with natural gas or wind for electric power generation – regardless of regulation – it’s not surprising that they would be looking for someone to blame for their diminished status. The President and the EPA are easy targets.

But let’s pan the picture out a bit:

Picture2Recognize those white tanks in the background? That’s Freedom Industries! Those are the guys who contaminated the Elk River, poisoned the drinking water for 300,000 people, and virtually shut down the largest city in West Virginia! And this sign, accusing the EPA of killing jobs, sits smack on their property.

I wonder if anyone has begun counting the cost of Freedom Industries’ unregulated chemical spill. How deeply West Virginia’s economy has been harmed? How many jobs have been destroyed? How many small businesses – restaurants, coffee shops, bakeries and such – will shut their doors for good? How many people and businesses are cancelling plans to move to Charleston? And in the future, how many people will lose their health due to the lasting impact of these toxins in the environment?

We all know that every business would be better off – in the near term – if someone else would pick up the tab, or quietly suffer the consequences of their messes. But that’s no way to run a just economy. And when we pray “Thy kingdom come … on earth …” we’re praying – at a bare minimum – for a just economy.

J. Elwood

5 thoughts on ““Job-Killing” Environmental Regulation? (Part 2)

  1. Dean Ohlman

    One irony here is found in a patriotic song the folks at “Freedom” industries probably love to sing: “America: the Beautiful.” Lyricist Katharine Lee Bates, a school teacher, writes in her second stanza, “Confirm thy soul in self-control; [confirm] thy liberty in law.” What she means, of course, is that we need both law (regulation) and self-control. In fact, the less self-control we practice, the more laws we will have. And the converse is true as well. “Freedom” in the company’s name clearly means license (“G-men keep your sorry asses off my property. I will do what I jolly well please with MY property.”) I wonder if there is any company with the name “Responsibility Industries”? I doubt it. Solzhenitsyn told the capitalistic West what we were, and still are, lacking: the need to repent and to show self-restraint. But he also said that such is not likely to happen. How awesome it would have been to hear Freedom Industries people say, “We are sorry. We blew it. We will do everything we can possibly do to make sure that nothing like this will ever happen again.”

  2. Allen Johnson

    Dean, the photo of the tanks is where the leak occurred, near the Charleston, WV airport a few miles upriver from the state capital. Can be easily seen from I-77/79, as of course the billboard.

    Freedom Industries has filed for bankruptcy. It’s not hard to conjecture the reasons given that realizing that they were culpable for the spill, that lawsuits would pour in on them, and the state government would scapegoat them in order to divert attention from their ongoing negligence and complicity with the daily pollution from the extractive industries, and that Freedom Industries is a relatively small company, that bankruptcy would be claimed ahead of the eight ball. Already the state legislature is working on a bill supposedly to tighten regulations by requiring holding tank inspections, but the bill is already being weakened. And while House Speaker Boehner might say that there are enough regulations on the books, just enforce them, in reality he and many others in Congress work mightily to decrease funding for regulatory agencies such as the EPA. And with less money, less inspections and studies on pollutants, which means more profit margins for unethical companies who can dump their negative externalities on the health and pocketbooks of the citizenry.

    These are serious moral issues that the Church should square up with. And thank you, John Elwood, for sharing this story.

      1. Dean Ohlman

        For sure you want to hear more from Allen. He is one of the pioneers in the creation care community. (That means he’s an old geezer, but he’s still coherent 🙂 Just don’t ask me my age!

  3. Dean Ohlman

    Thanks, Allen! Good to see you still working hard at it! I’m sure we passed that sign location within the past year, having to travel that way a couple times a year.


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