Environmental Regulation is the Enemy and Time is Our Friend — Just Drink Water From Our Plastic Bottles and You Will be Safe Until This Crisis Blows Over West Virginia’s Message to the Nation

January 13, 2014

(COUNTERPUNCH) The vaunted capacity of enlightened corporations to do better than government to protect the public interest in clean, safe water just cracked a big leak in West Virginia.

Here is the most curious omission in media coverage of the West Virginia pollution disaster: how politics in West Virginia harbors antipathy to the very environmental regulations that ought to protect the state’s drinking water.

It is also an outstanding example how politics have consequences like those depriving 300,000 people in Charleston of safe drinking water. It is almost as though the media — that knows no boundaries when it comes to matching mayhem to eyeballs — has discovered in the underbrush of West Virginia politics a tragedy that is too horrible: the indelicate matter of voters supporting choices that undermine their own existence.

Curious, too, the media has no difficulty macerating an event in New Jersey that is similarly totemic: traffic flow on the George Washington Bridge traffic constipated by political ambition. Arguably the Elk River in West Virginia represents the same theme of politics making mince-meat of citizen safety with a significantly more dire outcome. Yet the media holds its nose.

Although both US Senators from West Virginia are Democrats, they are a leaden part of the Democratic majority in the Senate that exposes the American public to the worst of right-wing extremism against environmental regulation.

West Virginia is a poor state. Poverty indexes put the state near the very bottom. So when a story like the Elk River, that bears an eery familiarity to the burning rivers of the industrial midwest that spurred in the 1970′s the first federal environmental laws, emerges: one struggles for interpretation more clear than a poor state subject to most unfortunate, unavoidable calamity. That is exactly what is playing out on nightly network news.

Not a word either from Fox News how environmental rules might have reached to protect Charleston’s drinking water from the owners of the coal-industry company. The Politburo in the Soviet Union had the Soviet era organ called Pravda to selectively inform Russians. That pretty much defines Fox News, when it comes to the environment and the importance of regulations. Where is the indignation? Where is the outcry? Where is the investigation of the evisceration of the EPA’s enforcement authority?

Although the federal EPA — the bogeyman of the right-wing — is not implicated in the Elk River disaster, the shadow cast over a city incapable of delivering clean water to citizens invites full disclosure.

According to news reports, even though the tanks were decades beyond their useful life, the catastrophic pollution event awaits dilution and time. Thus it is with pollution in the United States.

The name of the company responsible for the catastrophe in West Virginia: Freedom Industries.

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The Killer Politics of Big Sugar: It Is What It Is

January 10, 2014

COUNTERPUNCH WEEKEND EDITION JANUARY 10-12, 2014

A recent report by the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development) underscores the health care crisis in the world’s most exceptional democracy. The U.S. spends two and a half times per capita more on health care than any other developed country. How does this happen? Take a look at a key player in the paradox: sugar growers. In Florida it is called, Big Sugar. In other states it is beets, maple syrup and most ubiquitous of all: high-fructose corn syrup extracted from an unlimited corn crop heavily subsidized by taxpayers.

“30%-40% of healthcare expenditures in the USA go to help address issues that are closely tied to the excess consumption of sugar.” (Credit Suisse Report: “Sugar: Consumption At A Crossroads”, Sept. 2013) In Forbes Magazine, contributor Dan Monroe summarized, “Basically, the U.S. healthcare system spends about $1 trillion per year (and possibly more) fighting the effects of excess sugar consumption.”

“Higher health spending per capita tends to be associated with lower mortality rates and higher life expectancy, but this is not the case for the United States.” (“OECD: Switzerland tops 34 nations for life expectancy at 82.8″, UPI, Jan. 7, 2014) American politics are organized to protect corporate interests that make voters and taxpayers sick, and there is no better example: in a candy bar or a bowl of healthy granola, sugar is the big stake in the heart of American health.

According to a recent United Health Foundation study, “Nine of the 10 least healthy states in the nation had among the 10 worst obesity rates in the country.” The United Health Foundation was established by UnitedHealth Group in 1999 as a not-for-profit, private foundation dedicated to improving health and health care. Its ”America’s Health Rankings” rates the most healthy and least health states by evaluating factors such as healthy behaviors, quality of health care, health policy, the presence of diseases and deaths from illnesses.

The study is a good gateway to explore the politics of sugar. Nutrition advocates and environmentalists who have every reason to despair at the corrupting political influence of sugar have never connected the dots for the American public: sugar is not just another crop that receives federal benefits. It is a crop whose profits deform democracy and public health, no matter whose political party is in charge or at what level of government. Read the rest of this entry »


In the Climate Change Coal Mine: The Year the Canaries Came Home to Roost

January 1, 2014

In the Climate Change Coal Mine
The Year the Canaries Came Home to Roost

(Counterpunch) For my final essay of 2013 I am going to (again) write about climate change. This seems to be the year of the canaries in the climate-change coal mine. “Seems”, because at the risk of repetition I have been on that metaphor from the moment I started on the environment.

Back in the late 1980′s I wrote about serial algae blooms in northern Florida Bay. Although the scientists were scratching each other’s eyes out at the time — on the facts and cause –, it was clear that nothing could stop amorphous, amoeba-like blobs from destroying a vast, extraordinary piece of the Everglades ecosystem.

Nothing but government action to reverse decades of water mis-management that accrued to the benefit and upstream profits of Big Sugar. But the deniers controlled the levers of government: it was the time of Ronald Reagan, James Watts and the Wise Use Movement mobilized through the precursor to the Tea Party, called then the Sagebrush Rebellion — against government and especially against environmental regulation — and its Florida Keys branch, the Conch Coalition. Read the rest of this entry »