The catastrophic chemical spill last week in West Virgina’s Elk River is not just an environmental disaster confined to small sub-set of the American population. It is a microcosm of the nation’s fractured environmental regulatory framework and exposes a number of broader issues.
One is the dilemma faced by state governments to boost their economies by accommodating corporate agendas at the expense of public safety.
The New York Times reports West Virgina is a state “with a long and troubled history of regulating the coal and chemical companies that form the heart of its economy.”
“Critics say the problems are widespread in a state where the coal and chemical industries, which drive much of West Virginia’s economy and are powerful forces in the state’s politics, have long pushed back against tight federal health, safety and environmental controls.”
Another issue is strong resistance by states to accept federal oversight: “West Virginia has a pattern of resisting federal oversight and what they consider EPA interference, and that really puts workers and the population at risk.”
There is also a “questionable enforcement ethic” to adhere to federal laws, coupled with a powerful coal lobby that has “wielded great influence in crafting state environmental regulations.”