[Marxism] Freedom to pollute

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Jan 17 11:48:30 MST 2014


By Phil Mattera, Dirt Diggers Digest

Recent news reports out of West Virginia sound like they were written as 
part of a parody of modern business: the company responsible for a 
chemical leak that contaminated the water supply of hundreds of 
thousands of people is named Freedom Industries and was cofounded by a 
two-time convicted felon.

The situation, however, is far from a joke. Freedom Industries spilled a 
substantial quantity of a substance called 4, methylcyclohexane methanol 
(MCHM) into the Elk River near the intake valve for a water treatment 
plant serving the Charleston area, sending more than 150 people to the 
hospital and forcing residents to use bottled water for drinking, 
cooking and bathing. The plume is now heading toward Cincinnati.

As is all too common in such incidents, it turns out that the 
75-year-old facility where the rupture took place had not been visited 
by government inspectors for more than 20 years. In fact, as a storage 
rather than a production facility, it was subject to little in the way 
of federal or state oversight. So much for the idea of regulatory excess.

Given that MCHM is used to process coal, this accident adds to the heavy 
toll that mining has taken on West Virginia -- from the Buffalo Creek 
flood in 1972 to the Upper Big Branch disaster in 2010 in which 29 
miners were killed. It is also significant that Freedom Industries 
purchases MCHM, for which it serves as a distributor, from a subsidiary 
of Georgia-Pacific, which in turn is controlled by the rabidly 
anti-regulation Koch Brothers.

To all this can be added the fact that Freedom Industries was cofounded 
by an individual named Carl Lemley Kennedy II. As the Charleston Gazette 
has reported, Kennedy filed for personal bankruptcy in 2005 after he was 
hit with federal charges of tax evasion and failure to remit employee 
withholding taxes. He is reported to have admitted to diverting more 
than $1 million that should have gone to the Internal Revenue Service.

Kennedy's involvement in Freedom Industries, the Gazette notes, does not 
seem to have been affected by the fact that he had once pleaded guilty 
to selling cocaine in connection with a scandal that involved the mayor 
of Charleston. The paper quotes the current mayor, who is said to have 
known Kennedy since the 1980s, as an "edgy guy."

Another remarkable aspect of the story reported by the Gazette is that 
Freedom Industries was struggling in 2009, and its Elk River facility 
was able to go on functioning only after the Army Corps of Engineers 
dredged that portion of the river using federal stimulus funds.

To summarize: a tax evader and drug dealer helped to establish a largely 
unregulated chemical company that benefitted from the federal stimulus 
but apparently did little in the way of preventive maintenance and set 
the stage for large-scale drinking water contamination.

Large corporations such as Dow Chemical and Exxon Mobil have caused vast 
amounts of environmental damage, but it shouldn't be forgotten that 
small-time operators such as Freedom Industries can also do substantial 
harm. And it is not just producers of hazardous materials but also 
distributors that can be the culprits. It was another small distributor, 
West Fertilizer, that was involved in the ammonium nitrate explosion in 
Texas last April that killed 15 people. Much of the reporting in the 
wake of that event, particularly with respect to holes in the regulatory 
system, could have been recycled for the new West Virginia accident.

As long as the illusion of regulation is perpetuated in place of the 
real thing, these accidents will continue to happen, and the right to 
pollute will trump the right to be safe from pollution.

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