West Virginia is one of the poorest states in the nation, just ahead of Arkansas and Mississippi, and is also one of the most hostile places to the environment. Coal is king in West Virginia and the coal industry has made sure of that. It is no surprise that the West Virginia congressional delegation has a dismal voting record on environmental issues. In 2013, West Virginia Senator Machin, a coal man himself, had the worst voting record of any Democrat, by far, voting against legislation designed to combat climate change, to protect drinking water, to reduce toxic air pollution and green house gases. Not surprisingly, he was for the Keystone XL Pipeline. To be fair, fellow Democrat, Senator Rockefeller, had a much better voting record, voting for environmentally friendly legislation 85% of the time. The West Virginia House delegation of three – two Republicans and one Democrat were downright hostile to mother earth, opposing bills to regulate toxic coal ash and fracking and shockingly did not support water safety measures; there’s some tragic irony there.
In January of 2014, a tank owned by Freedom Industries began leaking toxic mining chemicals into the Elk River, the drinking water supply near Charleston prompting the state to issue an emergency ban on tap water for drinking, cooking, bathing and cleaning. The ban was recently lifted but the governor, according to an informative piece on the spill in the New Yorker by Evan Osnos, no one has complete confidence that the water is now safe to use.
West Virginians may be poor on the whole, but they aren’t stupid and in spite of their aversion to heavy-handed government, they do in fact want safe water to drink and clean air to breathe. And speaking of clean air, despite fierce opposition from West Virginia lawmakers, the Supreme Court handed down a 6-2 decision that would compel coal plant operators in states like West Virginia to reduce their pollution, pollution that often makes its way to neighboring states. In a bit of irony, as this is International Workers’ Day, the two dissenters – Justices Scalia and Thomas said the ruling was, as reported in the West Virginia Record, “possibly Marxist”.
Power to people and power to the environment! Winning!!