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America’s Entitlement Society – Populated by Corporate

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In West Virginia, after a cavalier chemical company poisoned the drinking water of 300,000 people, the corporate-hugging, right-wing extremist group Americans for the Prosperous congratulated itself for doling out bottled water one day.

“What better way to help people than to give them water?” said Wendy McCuskey, a member of Americans for the Prosperous (aka Americans for Prosperity).

Well, maybe one better way would be regulating corporations to prevent them from poisoning water in the first place. But Americans for the Prosperous, and the group’s entitled billionaire sponsors, reject regulation. Instead, they believe the wealthy are entitled to operate recklessly and crash Wall Street now and again and operate haphazardly and poison a river or two, sicken and inconvenience non-rich Americans, and force local taxpayers to cover the costs of emergency response and cleanup. That’s the way the entitled rich believe it should be. That is the Americans for the Prosperous way.

The company that poisoned the Elk River had escaped government inspection of its aging chemical storage tanks in a regulation-lax state for nearly a quarter century, since the time when the tanks, owned by a different firm, held gasoline. The company is called Freedom Industries – as in free from regulation, free to ooze 7,500 gallons of licorice-smelling, coal processing 4-methylcyclohexane methanol into a West Virginia drinking water supply; free to neglect mentioning the contamination until confronted by state officials; free to allow deterioration of the dike intended to prevent such a spill from splashing into the river; free to file for bankruptcy a week after polluting the river, thus shifting costs onto creditors and those injured. In other words, entitled to make money in any way it pleased and expect taxpayers to suffer the consequences.

In the thrall of anti-regulation zealots like Americans for the Prosperous, West Virginia politicians neglected to protect citizens, refused to attempt to prevent corporations from sickening and even killing West Virginians.

Federal officials warned West Virginia long before the Freedom Industries incident. In fact, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board cautioned West Virginia twice in the past five years, both times after chemical plant workers died. The board urged the state to regulate chemical facilities, a role Congress denied the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA may inspect only above-ground oil tanks. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) could review for worker safety. But an inadequate budget means OSHA can examine each workplace only once every 100 years.

In 2008, an explosion at Bayer CropScience, in Institute, W.Va. killed two workers and sickened six volunteer firefighters. The plant made the same chemical that killed 10,000 and injured 500,000 in Bhopal, India in 1984 after a Union Carbide pesticide plant released it. In 2010, three serious errors occurred within 33 hours at a DuPont chemical manufacturing plant in Belle, W.Va., including release of a gas used as a chemical weapon in World War I. That killed one worker.

After investigating the Bayer CropScience explosion, the Chemical Safety Board recommended that the West Virginia legislature adopt a regulation plan prepared by People Concerned About Chemical Safety, a state group established after the blast.

People Concerned About Chemical Safety first offered the plan in 2009, and the legislature did nothing. The legislature did nothing again a year later when the Chemical Safety Board issued its Bayer CropScience report. And it did nothing once more in response to the death at DuPont.

Maya Nye, president of People Concerned About Chemical Safety, explained to a New York Times reporter why the legislature prostrates itself to industry at the expense of public health: “We are so desperate for jobs in West Virginia, we don’t want to do anything that pushes industry out.”