In a world where justice truly mattered, the Elk Creek chemical spill last week would be labeled a “triggering event.” It would first trigger indignation — and it has. But after the indignation, it would lead to much-needed change to a system that is ineffective and corrupt.
In a world where ethics mattered, my brothers and sisters in public relations would be talking with clients and employers right now. They would be urging audits that would locate time bombs like the one touched off by Freedom Industries. They would be urging immediate action to remediate these problems. They would ask top management to do the right thing.
Someone will pay for the negligence of Freedom Industries — a company that ignored the rules while reaping the profits. But it’s unclear whether anything will actually change in how companies handle hazardous chemicals and how regulators oversee them. Freedom Industries is one of hundreds of environmental time bombs ticking away in West Virginia. Some are buried as deep as the coal itself. Others, such as mountain-top removal, are there for all to see.
As a student of Appalachian politics, I’ve watched the decline of this region all my life. King Coal poisoned most of the streams where I grew up, and strip mines scarred the land forever. As the grandson of coal miners, I heard stories of hard-working men rendered powerless by companies that owned the homes they lived in and the stores where they shopped.
Thank you, Eric Waggoner
I drew inspiration for this post from an angry West Virginian named Eric Waggoner. His story is far more soulful and compelling than mine. In fact, it is deeply moving — a rant so well stated people will be reading it years from now — perhaps as they look back and lament why nothing has changed. Thanks to Eric, more people are listening.
Will the poisoning of Elk Creek trigger any real action? Students of Appalachian history will tell you it’s unlikely. Especially in West Virginia, a state that always seems to draw the short straw.
Waggoner’s essay tells much about what’s wrong with business and society in West Virginia. But if you’re Appalachian born and bred, as I am, you already know.