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Citizen Action Comes of Age in West Virginia in Fight Against Rockwool

Let’s step back for a moment to 2012.

Sierra Club was promoting its Beyond Coal campaign in West Virginia — by which it meant — hey, let’s include all of the above, including fracked natural gas.

I wrote a story for Corporate Crime Reporter about how fracking was destroying various parts of West Virginia.

After the story ran, I got a tip from two local West Virginia Sierra Club members.

They had heard that Chesapeake Energy is donating millions of dollars to Sierra Club.

The two whistleblowers wrote the President of Sierra Club and asked — do you take money from Chesapeake Energy?

The President of Sierra Club writes back — “We do not and will not take any money from Chesapeake or any other gas company. Hope all’s well with you both.”

But have you ever? I asked.

Two days later, Sierra Club admits taking over $25 million from the gas industry, mostly from Chesapeake.

West Virginia is sick of being run over by out of state corporations and their enablers, including so called public interest groups and corporate political parties who often are nothing more than handmaidens to corporate power.

And now, spontaneous uprisings are breaking out in West Virginia.

Last year, we saw the teachers rise up, go on strike, and successfully challenge the corporate controlled legislature.

Now we are seeing a citizen uprising in the eastern panhandle of West Virginia where a Danish multinational — Rockwool — is proposing to build an insulation factory that will emit 393 tons of hazardous air pollutants through two 200 foot smokestacks across the street from an elementary school.

All of the traditional indicators are that there is majority opposition to the facility. More than 8,000 people have joined the Citizens Against Rockwool Facebook page.

Hundreds of people show up for community meetings. And the local officials who greenlighted the plant are on the run.

But a key indicator is that the citizens are channeling Nancy Reagan and just saying no.

No to — let’s study it. No to — let’s see if we can make this plant operate in a friendly manner. No to — hey, it’s Danish, it must be good. No to — let’s negotiate with the company. No to Rockwool.

Or as the group put it in a recent press release — “We do not have the luxury to wait months and years to see studies about the health impacts this plant will have on our community. We do not want to be anyone’s scientific guinea pig. Our message is loud and clear: Stop Toxic Rockwool.”

The citizens justifiably don’t trust Rockwool — Danish or not. It’s proposing a heavy industrial plant in an area that is historic and residential. It’s the wrong facility at the wrong place — and given the uprising — the wrong time.

The president of Rockwool’s North American operations, Trent Ogilvie, flew into West Virginia last week — a public relations firm in hand — to try and put down the uprising.

Things did not go as planned.

Part of the problem for Rockwool is that Ogilvie makes absolute statements that are clearly wrong.

He told WTOP, a Washington, D.C. news radio station, that “very few citizens are very negative” against the facility.

A better bet is that few citizens in the area are supportive.

Ogilvie points to a similar Rockwool facility in Milton, Ontario.

“Nobody is complaining,” Ogilvie told This Week in Morgan County with Russell Mokhiber.

Nobody is complaining?

All you have to do is Google it, as the “very few” citizens of West Virginia who oppose the Rockwool facility have done.

“I watched Roxul build this monstrosity over a two-week period from my front window. It towers over the old eyesore,” wrote one citizen to the Burlington Post in 2009. “I’m guessing this will put the fumes higher over the town and that the south end of Milton will suffer from the emissions.”

And other articles documenting citizens in Milton complaining about odors and pollution.

I asked Ogilvie — how is the company’s record when it comes to occupational safety?

“Especially in North America, our safety records are great,” Ogilvie says.

Have you had any issues with occupational safety enforcement?

“No,” Ogilvie says.

What about the incident in 2017 where a worker at Rockwool’s insulation manufacturing facility in British Columbia, Canada was feeding foil facing around a rotating heat drum?

The worker’s arms were caught between the heat drum and the tension roller, and the worker was injured.

An investigation by WorkSafeBC, British Columbia’s worker safety enforcement unit, determined that the machine had not been guarded or locked out, and the work procedures for the machine did not include lockout.

The investigation found that “the firm failed to ensure machinery was effectively safeguarded and locked out to protect workers – these were repeated and high-risk violations.”

The company was originally fined $122,444.55 – which was later reduced to a warning letter on appeal.

When asked about this, Ogilvie says – “I know about the accident, which was sad.”

“I don’t know where the information is coming about a violation against the factory,” Ogilvie said. “And I run the business in North America.”

The information is coming from WorkSafe BC, the enforcement unit that brought the case against the company you are in charge of.

Very few opposed to the facility in West Virginia, no complaints about the facility in Ontario, and I don’t know where the information is coming about the worker safety violation.

Not credible, not credible, not credible.

There is no question that Rockwool is out to crush the growing citizen opposition.

“We are going to build this facility here,” Ogilvie says with absolute certainty.

But on the ground, citizens think Rockwool and Ogilvie are blowing smoke.

Regina Hendrix is the local Sierra Club representative.

And unlike the national Sierra Club of 2012, she’s not up to playing footsie with corporations.

She’s not an all of the above kind of citizen. She wants no part of Rockwool.

Hendrix agrees that Rockwool is going to build the facility — “but not in Jefferson County.”

Hendrix moved to Jefferson County from the Kanawha Valley — to get away from cancer causing pollution there.

Hendrix is one of eight siblings.

“Six out of eight of us have had cancer,” Hendrix told This Week in Morgan County. “The only ones who have escaped it are me and my baby sister. I have many relatives with cancer. Right now, my brother is dying from metastasized cancer. And a cousin who always led a very clean life is having chemotherapy.”

Hendrix believes that the industrial facilities along the Kanawha River are causing cancer. And she doesn’t trust Rockwool’s claims about safety.

“I moved to the eastern panhandle because I knew there was no coal underground and I knew there was no gas,” Hendrix said. “And I figured there would never be this kind of pollution like is proposed by Rockwool.”

Hendrix figured wrong.

But the citizen uprising in the eastern panhandle of West Virginia could make things right again.

More articles by:

Russell Mokhiber is the editor of the Corporate Crime Reporter..

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