“Canaries in a Coal Mine’ For Political Corruption, Environmental Horror

Richard Eskow

It’s heartbreaking to read of the suffering caused by environmental damage in West Virginia and North Carolina. We recently interviewed West Virginia filmmaker Mari-Lynn Evans on the “Zero Hour” radio show (formerly “Take Action News”) about the ongoing harm caused by groundwater pollution there. And last week in North Carolina a containment area filled with coal ash ruptured, dumping 80,000 pounds of toxic ash into the Dan River.

These are not acts of God. These are the deeds of human beings – specifically, politicians. Even more specifically, they’re the doing of politicians who are in the pockets of corporate interests.

These two states are “canaries in a coal mine” for the nation as a whole. They are further along in the process of selling government to the highest bidder. But thanks to recent Supreme Court decisions, revolving door appointments, and increasing corporate corruption of the political process nationwide, the rest of the country isn’t far behind them.

Sometimes politicians are capable of responding in the face of tragedy. West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin may not have a stellar record on environmental issues, but at least he’s doing the right thing now. Manchin is cosponsoring a bill with fellow West Virginia Sen. Jay Rockefeller and California Sen. Barbara Boxer which is designed to provide stronger protections for Americans’ drinking water.

We’re not likely to see a similar reaction from the Republican governor of North Carolina, Pat McCrory. The coal ash pond which ruptured there was owned by Duke Energy, where McCrory worked for 30 years.

As the Associated Press reported after the spill. North Carolina’sDepartment of Environment and Natural Resources blocked environmental lawsuits three times last year by intervening on Duke Energy’s behalf.

The despoiling of the Dan River stands as an indictment of a political process which has become corrupted by corporate collusion. It, like the disaster in West Virginia, also conclusively refutes the right-wing argument which suggests that self-interested corporations are capable of regulating themselves. (Terrance Heath wrote an excellent piece on West Virginia’s tragedy as conservatism’s failure.)

The events in West Virginia and North Carolina are tragic in their own rights. As Terrance Heath points out, the next accident could result in loss of life as well. And the losses in these states remind us of the struggle we all face to regain control of our political process.

The canaries in the coal mine have sent their warnings. The question is, will we listen?

(The interview with Mari-Lynn Evans is here)

 

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