Among the long list of things Republicans hate, rules or directives made and maintained by the government to protect the health and safety of the population rank nearly as high as their hatred for women, taxes, equal rights, democracy and the U.S. Constitution. Americans have heard Republicans talk about regulations a lot more than usual over the past couple of weeks to revive their thirty year contention that gutting regulations is one-half of their strategy to create jobs updated in 2014 to wipe out poverty, create full employment, and end income inequality. The idea that eliminating regulations will create jobs and end poverty is nearly as absurd as Marco Rubio’s assertion that marriage is the be all, end all solution for poverty borne of income inequality, low wages, and lack of jobs.
The Heritage Foundation sums up the Republican Party’s stance on regulations, regardless their intrinsic protective value, as “government meddling in virtually every aspect of American life.” It is code for regulations that prohibit big business from having a free hand to inflict harm on the people in the pursuit of unrestricted profits are “government meddling.” Over the past five years the nation has seen the effects of deregulation, or regulation violations, firsthand whether it was the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, an explosion at a fertilizer plant in Texas, a West Virginia mine explosion, and a chemical spill last Thursday that gave West Virginia residents another up-close-and-personal view of deregulation’s effects.
On Friday, officials said up to 5,000 gallons of an industrial chemical used in coal processing leaked from a ruptured chemical storage tank owned by Freedom Industries into the Elk River just upstream of the intake pipes used by the largest water utility in the state, West Virginia American Water. It turned out that the chemical spill was larger than originally estimated (7,500 gallons) and it has kept over 300,000 West Virginians without safe water for four days as of Sunday. On Saturday the president of West Virginia American Water Company said it would likely still be “several days” before tap water in the nine affected counties would be safe for anything besides flushing toilets. Water company president Jeff McIntyre said, “We don’t know that the water is not safe, but I can’t say it is safe,” but one can assume that since at least 122 people went to local hospitals reporting nausea and vomiting, with 5 being admitted at two hospitals, the water is not safe.
The ruptured chemical holding tank, and “inch wide holes in a retaining wall,” should have failed an inspection if one were conducted, but the Department of Environmental Protection officials said the owners of the tank that ruptured, Freedom Industries, are “exempt from inspections or permitting because the company only stores chemicals, and does not produce them.” The chemicals were produced by Georgia-Pacific, a subsidiary of Koch Industries. According to one county official, the ruptured tank was part of a decades-old Pennzoil refinery “dating back to the 1930s or 1940s,” and Charleston’s mayor believes the chemicals went through the holes in the retaining wall after leaking from the ruptured tank. It is highly probable that since the inch-wide holes in the retaining wall were big enough for anyone to see, Freedom Industries knew the 70 to 80 year-old tanks were in desperate need of replacement and did not want to spend the money to repair them because regulations did not require them to. The tragedy in West Virginia is precisely the deregulation and getting “government out of the way” Republicans are fighting for under the guise of ending poverty and creating jobs, but it underscores why regulations, particularly environmental regulations, need to be strengthened; not eliminated.
West Virginia’s Governor, Earl Ray Tomblin, vowed that he was going to “look into tighter regulation of chemical storage facilities,” but with Republicans in deregulation mode, pushing to eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency, and fighting to rollback regulations on businesses, looking into tighter regulations is about all Tomblin will be allowed to do. Republicans are in no mood to strengthen regulations on a company with a name like Freedom Industries that provides chemicals to the dirty coal industry, or any other industry for that matter. It is contrary to their ideology that companies, particularly dirty energy companies, should be required to spend one penny to protect the environment or a water supply serving over 300,000 Americans.
The chemical spill prompted President Obama to declare a federal emergency on Friday, and FEMA had brought in 1.4 million liters of water for residents with an additional 1.6 million liters expected to come in over the course of the weekend. Around the region schools were closed, restaurants locked their doors, hotels refused reservations, and store shelves were quickly stripped of bottled water. Traffic was congested as drivers waited to fill jugs from tankers delivered by the National Guard leaving Republicans with only one question to answer. Which domestic program or demographic they will impose cuts on to pay for the emergency relief efforts or reimburse businesses? There is not the slightest chance that Republicans will hold a company named Freedom Industries serving the dirty energy sector accountable to lift a finger or spend one penny to compensate victims of the spill.
Republicans have always loathed regulations, particularly those affecting their big-money donors’ ability to conduct business without regard for the health and safety of the people. Republicans do hate regulations that affect their donors, but they champion regulations that control women and deny gays’ equal protection under the Constitution because they are bible regulations. Suffice it to say that where the health and safety of the population is concerned, Republicans never met a regulation they did not hate passionately and work tirelessly to eliminate and they are not about to change just because 300,000 West Virginians were left without water. They still call for gutting regulations after the Upper Big Branch mine explosion claimed 29 lives, the Deepwater Horizon explosion killed 11 workers, and the West Fertilizer explosion in Texas killed 15 and injured 160, so they will be unfazed over a preventable tragedy that only sent over 122 people to the hospital because they were giving speeches calling for the end of regulations the same day President Obama declared a federal emergency in West Virginia.