11 Jan

West Virginia spill is a perfect demonstration of externalized costs

“Residents of nine counties in West Virginia have been told not to use or drink their water after a chemical used by the coal industry spilled into the Elk River on Thursday. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin declared a state of emergency as more than 100,000 customers, or 300,000 people, are without safe drinking water.

‘Don’t make baby formula,’ said West Virginia American Water Company president Jeff McIntyre. ‘Don’t brush your teeth. Don’t shower. Toilet flushing only.’
The chemical, 4-Methylcyclohexane Methanol (MCHM), is used to wash coal of impurities and spilled from a tank at Freedom Industries into the river. While the amount of MCHM that spilled wasn’t immediately known, West Virginia American Water has been conducting water quality testing every hour. According to Laura Jordan, a spokesperson with the water company, they believe the chemical is leaking at ground level and ‘there is a possibility this leak has been going on for sometime before it was discovered Thursday,’ WSAZ reported.”

(Via West Virginia Declares State Of Emergency After Coal Chemical Contaminates Drinking Water | ThinkProgress.)

I just drove through that area of West Virginia coming back from my parents for Christmas. I noticed several angry-Obama posters that were by pro-coal fronts, saying the usual stuff. EPA and alternative energy = bad. Coal = jobs. Obama = against jobs and against West Virginia.

The usual canard is that we can’t afford solar or wind, it ‘costs’ too much. And that subsidies are granted to it to make it work.

Leave aside that solar is now at cost parity, here’s the thing that is always ignored. Coal, gas, fossil fuels, they create radiation, pollution, and kill people trying to get at it.

Meanwhile, the current Republican House just passed this:

The House passed the Reducing Excessive Deadline Obligations Act that would ultimately eliminate requirements for the Environmental Protection Agency to review and update hazardous-waste disposal regulations in a timely manner, and make it more difficult for the government to compel companies that deal with toxic substances to carry proper insurance for cleanups, pushing the cost on to taxpayers.

In addition, the bill would result in slower response time in the case of a disaster, requiring increased consultation with states before the federal government calls for cleanup of Superfund sites – where hazardous waste could affect people and the environment.

The bill amends both the Solid Waste Disposal Act and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act – often referred to as Superfund, which was created in 1980 to hold polluter industries accountable for funding the cleanup of hazardous-waste sites.

There are over 1,300 priority Superfund sites in the US.

So, all the clean up, all the government time and energy spent dealing with West Virginia, that one companies failure, will not be billed to that company nor to it’s customers in the price of higher coal. Furthermore, politicians of a certain kind are fighting hard against the EPA and the ability to hold companies responsible for clean up.

That is an externalized cost.

It is not fully accounted into the cost of fossil fuels.

It should be. It’s taken out in your taxes. You’d think certain politicians would be outraged about that, but since they like the energy, they’re okay with not pricing it in.

But it should be.

Will the 300,000 citizens at risk in WV think about that the next they vote.

My guess is… probably not. But I hope so.