PARKERSBURG WV — Parkersburg, WV is burning. And the plastics and chemical warehouse that’s been on fire for more than a week has a long history of environmental violations, violations that the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) just let slide. Why? Because this is West Virginia, so of course that’s how it works. Our Department of Environmental Protection isn’t there to protect us; in fact, our current governor, a deadbeat coal baron himself, has directed the department to do just the opposite. He’s told them to “stop saying no to industry.”
You may expect the DEP to stand up for us . . . and certainly some employees are trying their hardest. But the DEP secretary serves at the governor’s pleasure. Essentially, the leadership of the department has been bought. And even if the current DEP Secretary, Austin Caperton, wasn’t himself a wealthy coal executive, WV governors can simply count on those serving to value their jobs more than they value our lives.
Welcome to our resource extraction colony, where people are less important than the wallets of wealthy CEOs. Welcome to our chemical fire. Welcome to WV, where that black plume of chemical-smoke can drape across neighborhoods like a shroud, and the concern is more to make sure that the DEP seems like it’s doing something retroactively, rather than to make sure it protects us in real time.
For example, the warehouse that is burning doesn’t have the permit that the DEP directed it to acquire six years ago. Can we expect our government to take action to shut down this company? Maybe, but I doubt it. And frankly, even if they were to be kicked out of WV, never to return, they’re not some special case that slipped through the cracks of DEP enforcement. This tragedy of errors IS DEP enforcement. It’s working how it’s meant to work, because the DEP leadership is there to cover for industry, not to protect our citizens.
As to whether that cloud safe is to breathe . . . ummm. Well, we still don’t even have an inventory of what the warehouse contained. But about 60 people have gone to local emergency rooms so far with symptoms considered related to the inhalation.
In fact, the company that owns the warehouse in question—Intercontinental Export Import Inc.—owns several other warehouses in the area, and we have detailed inventories for exactly none of them. It was difficult to even figure out how many other chemical warehouses they own.
However many there are, the DEP has ordered IEI Plastics to finally submit detailed inventories. One wonders why it should take a DEP order for the company to provide the inventory that should have been on hand already, especially since the contents were burning, but the history shows the DEP has time and time again forgiven fines for repeated violations because . . . why? Oh, yeah.
Because this is West Virginia, where members of our own government clearly value industry over lives. And—with pockets stuffed full of campaign donations—those same representatives then pretend to wonder why we keep losing population as young people flee the state.
Lissa is running for House of Delegates in WV, funded by small donations, because she wants to change things in her state. Find her at www.hollerfromthehollers.com.