14 September 2009

Water, Coal and Politics in West Virginia

West Virginia helps provide a human face to a massive investigative report by The New York Times published Sunday.

The "extensive review of water pollution records" found that "in recent years, violations of the Clean Water Act have risen steadily across the nation," but that "the vast majority of those polluters have escaped punishment" as state officials have repeatedly ignored obvious illegal dumping, and the Environmental Protection Agency, which can prosecute polluters when states fail to act, has often declined to intervene."

The article highlights a Charleston-area family that contends with painful rashes, rotting teeth and other harms blamed on the water piped into their home. The Times also interviewed Matthew Crum, a former state regulator who blames coal operations for at least some of the pollution.

Crum further alleges that "everyone was terrified of doing their job" because of pressure from mining companies and "their friends in the state’s legislature." In this regard, the article includes this passage:

In 2003, a new director, Stephanie Timmermeyer, was nominated to run the Department of Environmental Protection. One of West Virginia’s most powerful state lawmakers, Eustace Frederick, said she would be confirmed, but only if she agreed to fire Mr. Crum, according to several people who said they witnessed the conversation.
Crum was indeed dismissed after Timmermeyer took the cabinet post, the article said, adding that "Timmermeyer, who resigned in 2008, did not return calls," while "Mr. Frederick died last year."

Before his death last year, the Mercer County Democrat was known as an outspoken advocate of the coal industry. But whether others would characterize the political sway held by the late mining engineer as the article has remains uncertain. And as a member of the House of Delegates, Frederick did not vote on gubernatorial appointees.

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