FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Poor West Virginia?  Think Again

by MIKE ROSELLE

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.

— Psalm 23.4

The chemical spill in Charleston, West Virginia has once again put Appalachia on the map. This is what it usually takes.  People have to not just die at the hands of the coal and chemical industry, they have to die dramatically. The long slow death spiral West Virginia has been in for over a hundred years is not news unless they do. The Charleston spill did not kill anyone, at least not yet, but it did affect a large number of people. It was very dramatic, much more so then the suffering that goes on each and every day here, which is killing people, which is permanently ruining streams and rivers and removing mountains.

After all, if the chemical had not leaked accidentally, they would have brought it up the Coal River and dumped it into the aquifer on purpose, and it would have gone to Charleston and down to New Orleans anyway. When a story like this breaks we hear once again the cries of “Poor West Virginia!” They  are sacrificed in the name of corporate greed. A wave of pity will wash over the country, and almost every one will look down the on the hollers once again and count their blessings, and then go to bed believing that they live in a place where this shit don’t happen. It is happening somewhere else to someone else, and is someone else’s fault.

For the record, I’m from Louisville, Kentucky, grew up next to a DuPont chemical plant, and we did this too. This sense of otherness that West Virginians have is reflected in the way others often see them, and treat them. I was raised to believe that country people were not like us. We were better. That is what a lot of people must be  thinking right now. As for the West Virginians, well, they have always seen themselves
as being different, and much of that, if not all of that, is due to the unique history, geography, geology and biology of Appalachia. Timber, salt, coal, oil, gas and limestone, the richest deposits in all the world, surrounded the city of Charleston, and the Kanawah River and eventually the railroad provided a way to get these to markets around the world.

The upper 80 miles of the Kanawah is called Chemical Valley and for over a century has been home to the highest concentration of chemical companies in the U.S. The mineral wealth of Appalachia literally built this country as we know it today, powered its mills and factories and made the belching smokestack a symbol of prosperity. It was a deciding factor in both world wars. Indeed it was the WW1 that created Chemical Valley as federal dollars rolled in to replace our almost total dependence on chemicals from Germany, which supplied almost all of the world’s industrial chemicals in use at the time. Soon Chemical Valley could make the same claim, and while the last few decades other countries have reduced its market share, Charleston is still the world’s leader in the manufacture of chemicals, and by proxy, in the poisoning of the world’s water. If you ate a fish caught any place in the world, you have chemicals from Charleston in your body.

The fact that most of the people in this state remained poor while the huge fortunes of the Gilded Era were being amassed has not evaded the occupants of the land that contained this wealth.  And while not passively accepting this grim fate they have at least come to expect it. Mountaineers have a brave history of fighting and winning historic struggles against all sorts of invaders, yet the result were always the same. Things did not change for the better. They usually got worse.

So what of the rest of the country? Are any of us really that different? Isn’t their fate in the hands of the same Toxic Overlords as our own? The answers are obvious. We face a global crisis, and solutions need to be global. Yet there is reason to keep our attention on Charleston, and on mountain top removal, because this is where much of the chemicals released into the global environment originate. It is also where much of our fresh water originates. It was the birthplace of the labor movement, where the poor and disposed did rise up,and, for a while at least, made things better.

There are many people on the ground in West Virginia fighting this industry. They have been warning for decades about the threats that coal and chemicals pose to our water. The idea that Appalachians are not standing up for themselves is a false one, and the comparisons are made to make us all feel better, as if we too had not been poisoned and dispossessed. The attention of the world is once again focused on West Virginia, and there is a reason for this:  Chemical Valley is the Valley of Death.

The movement to end coal mining is larger and stronger in West Virginia then in most other places I’ve been, and since this is where the industry is concentrated, where it holds absolute political power, it is not surprising that making progress is difficult to impossible. Victory can be achieved only if the nation stands together and demands real change. It has to start here.

MIKE ROSELLE is Campaign Director of Climate Ground Zero and author of Tree Spiker!. He can be reached at: mikeroselle@hotmail.com

More articles by:

MIKE ROSELLE is Campaign Director of Climate Ground Zero and author of Tree Spiker!. He can be reached at: mikeroselle@hotmail.com

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

July 27, 2017
Edward Curtin
The Deep State, Now and Then
Melvin Goodman
The Myth of American Exceptionalism
Nozomi Hayase
From Watergate to Russiagate: the Hidden Scandal of American Power
Kenneth Surin
Come Fly the Unfriendly Skies
Andre Vltchek
Philippines: Western Media is Distorting Reality, People and Army Unite to Battle “ISIS”
Robert Fisk
Out of the Ruins of Aleppo: a Syrian Community Begins to Rebuild
Andrew Moss
What is Adelanto?
Thomas Mountain
Free Speech or Terror TV? Al Jazeera’s Support for ISIS and Al Queda
Robert J. - Byers
Jamboree Travesty
Thomas Knapp
Send in the Clown: Scaramucci Versus the Leakers
Rob Seimetz
Because the Night Belonged to Us in St. Petersburg (Florida)
Paul Cantor
Momentum Not Mojo
Patrick Walker
In Defense of Caitlin Johnstone (Part Two)
July 26, 2017
John W. Whitehead
Policing for Profit: Jeff Sessions & Co.’s Thinly Veiled Plot to Rob Us Blind
Pete Dolack
Trump’s Re-Negotiation Proposal Will Make NAFTA Worse
George Capaccio
“Beauty of Our Weapons” in the War on Yemen
Ramzy Baroud
Fear and Trepidation in Tel Aviv: Is Israel Losing the Syrian War?
John McMurtry
Brexit Counter-Revolution Still in Motion
Ted Rall
The Democrats Are A Lost Cause
Tom Gill
Is Macron Already Faltering?
Ed Kemmick
Empty Charges Erode Trust in Montana Elections
Rev. William Alberts
Fake News? Or Fake Faith?
James Heddle
The Ethics and Politics of Nuclear Waste are Being Tested in Southern California
Binoy Kampmark
Slaying in Minneapolis: Justine Damond, Shooting Cultures and Race
Jeff Berg
Jonesing for Real Change
Jesse Jackson
The ‘Voter Fraud’ Commission Itself is Fraudulent
July 25, 2017
Paul Street
A Suggestion for Bernie: On Crimes Detectable and Not
David W. Pear
Venezuela on the Edge of Civil War
John Grant
Uruguay Tells US Drug War to Take a Hike
Charles Pierson
Like Climate Change? You’ll Love the Langevin Amendment
Linda Ford
Feminism Co-opted
Andrew Stewart
Any Regrets About Not Supporting Clinton Last Summer?
Aidan O'Brien
Painting the Irish Titanic Pink
Rob Seimetz
Attitudes Towards Pets vs Attitudes Towards the Natural World
Medea Benjamin
A Global Movement to Confront Drone Warfare
Norman Solomon
When Barbara Lee Doesn’t Speak for Me
William Hawes
What Divides America From the World (and Each Other)
Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity
Was the “Russian Hack” an Inside Job?
Chandra Muzaffar
The Bilateral Relationship that Matters
Binoy Kampmark
John McCain: Cancer as Combatant
July 24, 2017
Patrick Cockburn
A Shameful Silence: Where is the Outrage Over the Slaughter of Civilians in Mosul?
Robert Hunziker
Extremely Nasty Climate Wake-Up
Ron Jacobs
Dylan and Woody: Goin’ Down the Road Feelin’ Bad
Dan Glazebrook
Quantitative Easing: the Most Opaque Transfer of Wealth in History
Ellen Brown
Saving Illinois: Getting More Bang for the State’s Bucks
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail