Let’s discuss what’s going on here in the Sacrifice Zones—specifically our rural sacrifice zones.
Here’s what’s important to remember as you read: despite corporate propaganda to the contrary, folks furious about the extraction invasions are not all anti-drilling, anti-coal or anti-fossil fuel.
Appalachians in the sacrifice zones are not all just members of whichever party you hate the most and blame for all that’s wrong with this country.
We aren’t partisans, we are victims…
Yeah, we’re members of both parties.
Dividing us into two is a straw man argument that corporations and their political mouthpieces have found to be quite effective. Those talking points reduce people to two stereotypes and pit those stereotypes against one another.
We’re either “dumb hillbillies” who voted against our own interests, or “dumb tree-huggers” who want to destroy jobs. But this is a false dichotomy. We’re concerned for each other: workers are concerned for their communities, and communities are concerned for their workers.
“If you asked too many questions, you were labeled a tree-hugger and you were gone,” says former fracking waste truck driver Randy Moyer… Moyer was never told the contents of the waste he was hauling. At the well-site, waste was kept in a makeshift pit, and when loading his truck Moyer often had to climb in and squeegee out material… Moyer was given no safety gear, aside from a flame-resistant coat, because, he explains, “If the public sees guys in hazmat suits they’re going to start to ask questions.” As one would anticipate from a human being with direct exposure to radioactive waste, Moyer became quite sick.
Heck, we’ve talked about this false dichotomy before. Corporations are really working hard to get the media and to get YOU, whatever your personal political persuasion is, to dismiss all of us here in the sacrifice zones with an uncompromising “MEH!”
Industry talking points are regurgitated by bought politicians, and then often printed in the papers as if they’re somehow made true just because some paid corporate shill in office recites the industry script. That Greek Chorus—consisting of pundits, lobbyists, and elected officials all telling you in no uncertain terms that the corporate land grabs victimizing our rural neighbors are somehow good for WV families—models how they want you to rationalize allowing this travesty of sacrifice here in WV and similar areas to go on.
So how should you react, audience, when some poor soul begs for help to save the family farm?
“Worry not!” intones the Chorus. “She’s just a dumb hillbilly, so she deserves it. Or she’s a dumb treehugger who wants to return to the stone age.”
Yeah, the response is essentially the same MEH because they have the same owners. It’s only the specific insult that changes, based on what they think you’re more likely to hate.
The Greek Chorus Soothes the Outraged Conscience
Here’s the truth: folks out here are hearing that collective MEH! loud and clear… because we hear it from both sides.
It’s still pretty much okay to hate Appalachians even in this day and age. It’s okay to tar us all with broad stereotypes that would horrify if applied to some other group.
And these justifications for maintaining the third world conditions here in the midst of the United States have created conditions so brutal that a special UN envoy spent time touring WV (and other impoverished areas in the US, not all rural) to observe what the American “violence of looking away” from poverty has wrought here.
How, one wonders, can our government get away with it?
Our dreadful burden is not widespread
In rural Appalachia, we’re hollering from the hollers… but they can get away with it because our dreadful burden is not widespread. It’s the economics of extraction debt to focus the burden on vulnerable populations. Costs and risks are concentrated on us for “the greater good.”
For example, in the past 10 years, regulators in one state have documented 248 private water systems contaminated by fracking. Lookit:
- That’s 248 homes and farms.
- That’s just 10 years.
- That’s just fracking, not coal or other types of extraction.
- That’s just water contamination, not air pollution.
- That’s just the incidents that have been documented.
- And that’s just Pennsylvania.
Only 248? So what if it’s a whole town or an entire holler or an extended family. So what if a few people get sick from it. So what if those folks can’t sell their houses and move. So what if they can’t afford to get lawyers. So what.
It’s not widespread, right?
That’s what a sacrifice zone is. It’s a swath of land, a population of people that the government simply… declines to protect. That bears repeating: They DECLINE TO PROTECT US. They are sacrificing us.
MEH! You have to crack a few eggs, right?
We’re not worthy?
The corporate calculus is that if they can provide some small benefit to millions, then it’s okay to burden some hundreds of families. That’s what makes it okay to place health impacts on the families closest to frack pads, and put babies at risk from low birth weights.
I mean, it can’t be that much of a surprise that this is the plan industry money is pushing. That’s how businesses operate: they’re focused on their bottom line.
That can’t be how governments operate, though.
Our government should be fighting to protect ALL of us, not just some of us. Our government should be fighting just as hard to protect a few handfuls of families bearing the costs of an injection well, or hundreds having their properties seized for pipelines, or thousands bearing the cost of a frack dump (or an MCHM spill or C8 dumping or a plastics fire…) as we’d fight for 3 million.
That’s what “rights” are.
But corporations literally pay politicians of both parties to tell you that any complainers are a part of that OTHER party or OTHER group of people that you hate so much.
Our government can’t be absolved of its responsibility to make sure innocent people don’t have corporate costs and risks inflicted on them just because we live in a rural area or a poor area.
Sharples: We pay them to steal from us
Let’s look at an illustrative story of corporate theft: the “Sharples Water Line Extension Project” in Logan County. That project used public money to help finance a switch from well water and the local public system to a water supply owned by a privately-owned company. They used that taxpayer money to “help satisfy mine permitting requirements for Arch Coal’s proposed Mountain Laurel mine.”
Let’s go over it carefully. It’s so unbelievably, blatantly, a transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich, that I want to make sure you don’t just skim by. This actually happened (see the link above). This is what it means to live in a sacrifice zone.
- West Virginians were forced to use block grants—tax money in other words—to help a big coal company meet its permitting requirements for mining operations.
- Those mining operations took water resources away from our citizens. Our government took our money and paid corporate execs to steal from us.
- On top of that, each taxpaying municipal water customer, for the rest of their lives, pays money to a private water company. Former well owners are paying execs for water that was once free, a part of their property.
That tax money was used to subsidize the destruction of that community’s clean water so coal execs could further enrich themselves. Then the people who live in that community pay water bills from now unto eternity.
That resource is gone, not just for them… but for their kids, and grandkids, and greats, and great-greats.
And this situation happens again and again in WV.
Prenter: We pay to clean up their messes
The New York Times reported this story, about a community just a few miles from Charleston.
Her youngest son has scabs on his arms, legs and chest where the bathwater — polluted with lead, nickel and other heavy metals — caused painful rashes. Many of his brother’s teeth were capped to replace enamel that was eaten away.
Neighbors apply special lotions after showering because their skin burns. Tests show that their tap water contains arsenic, barium, lead, manganese and other chemicals at concentrations federal regulators say could contribute to cancer and damage the kidneys and nervous system.
That’s Prenter, WV, in Boone County.
Ultimately the problem was fixed. It was paid for chiefly by taxpayers. The water company kicked in, too. What a bargain to expand their customer base!
The companies that caused the pollution, though: they paid not one red cent.
Boil advisories: our new way of life
For some rural people who have municipal water, boil advisories have gone on for years. For YEARS. The boil advisories “are a way of life” in some areas of McDowell. And frankly Ritchie County deals with far too much water uncertainty, too, with little explanation offered.
This is how sacrifice zones happen, folks: one poor community at a time.
MEH! You have to crack a few eggs.
It’s not just costs and nuisances: it’s risks
Go home, Rover! We don’t want to be sacrificed.
Near Sistersville in Tyler County where Rover pipeline is going in, eight homes average about 350 feet from the path… even though the blast radius, should there be some accident, is 1000 feet. They would be incinerated.
A tornado. A giant storm. An airplane crashing. That’s how neighbors described the sound of last week’s early morning natural gas pipeline explosion in Westmoreland County, just east of Pittsburgh.
“The noise was so loud—it was sickening,” says Dave Alund, who lives just down the road from where the April 29 blast occurred. “It consumed all the oxygen around here. You had a devil of a time breathing.”
And that’s a description from outside the blast zone, not within it, like those homes near Sistersville would be.
So if you’re a homeowner in the Rover land grab… do you live with it, the risk? That’s what you’re expected to do. Do you move away instead? But who would want to buy a home that comes with such a risk, that close to a pipeline?
So if you move, too bad so sad, you’ll have to absorb the loss of property value. And for most of us, the only real asset we have is our home or farm.
The corporate land grab
This devaluing of our property works out great—for corporations. The more people they drive out, and the lower they drive property values, the less expensive their land grab will be.
But I ask you: why should those unfortunate families have to bear disproportionate risks and costs?
As far as our politicians are concerned, it’s because, well, you have to crack a few eggs, in order to stuff a few pockets.
But shouldn’t we make sure that people can move away if they choose to? Shouldn’t we prevent corporations from simply funneling that wealth to their execs, while we’re stuck with a forlorn forever of risks and lost property values?
MEH! You have to crack a few eggs.
Is that really the moral response, though? How will you feel when they come for you, or your friends or family?
Not near a pipeline or frack dump? Fear not. You pay, too.
Some people live directly in the sacrifice zones and pay big.
But costs don’t hit only those unlucky enough to be nearby. That’s because the real money is in building infrastructure, not in providing you with reliable, inexpensive electric service. All too often these big corporations are building infrastructure to make money, not to improve things for the public. They’re overbuilding because that’s how they get to stuff their pockets with taxpayer money.
As the Charleston, SC, Post and Courier explains:
Over the past decade, state legislatures across the country rewrote rule books for how power companies pay for new power plants, shifting financial risks away from electric companies to you and everyone else.
This rule change ignited a bonfire of risky spending — $40 billion so far on new power plants and upgrades, a Post and Courier investigation found.
Flush with your cash, utilities tried to build plants with unproven technology; they launched projects with unfinished designs and unrealistic budgets; they misled regulators and the public with schedules that promised bogus completion dates; they hid damning reports from investors and the public; they tried to silence critics and whistleblowers.
Then, when delays and cost overruns couldn’t be ignored, they asked state regulators to charge you more for their failures.
And what happened to these high-stakes gamblers?
Over the past five years, executive teams of six utilities that bet on these plants won $520 million in salaries, bonuses and other personal compensation…
So they claim fracking will drop gas prices, and claim pipelines will drop electric and gas prices… but instead the rates go up to pay for bonuses and enrich the bigwigs. And don’t forget: you may well lose your clean water in the meantime, even if you’re on a municipal system (hello, Antero frack dump).
You’re also paying for the health impacts. What… you really think EQT is going to pay the costs for people too near their frackpads when a newborn has low birthweight and has to stay in the NICU for a couple weeks? No. That’s you… or maybe a friend at work. That’s your neighbor two hollers down. Could be that’s your nephew, or even your own child or grandbaby.
On top of that, your tax dollars are going to pay for the messes those rich executives can’t be bothered to clean up, and maybe even to help them with permitting requirements. Plus, property values are negatively affected—all over the state, not just for those unfortunate enough to be located in the way of the corporations.
Yeah, for the last 37 years, WV has had the least appreciation of home value in the country. In fact, adjusted for inflation, West Virginians lose an average of 0.8% per year of the value of their homes.
That’s because the value of your neighbor’s house affects the value of yours.
We ALL pay when we buy into stereotypes and allow corporate politicians to sacrifice 800 families—or just eight—for campaign donations.
We all pay when we vote for corporate politicians.
It’s all about the money, honey
- The costs for the coal company to meet permitting requirements is socialized on us.
- The cost for a water company to expand its customer base is socialized on us.
- The costs for gas infrastructure are being socialized on us.
- The costs for cleanup are being socialized on us.
- The costs for damaged, less valuable properties are being socialized on us, too.
We’re paying all these costs because members of both parties officials are getting paid to work for the same wealthy, corporate interests. In fact, lobbyists are painfully blatant about buying WV politicians.
Pay attention, because Citizens United is fueling the growth and spread of our nation’s sacrifice zones.
Our property rights, property values, money, and lives are offered up on the corporate altar. Politicians from both parties are perfectly willing to sacrifice us in exchange for the campaign donations that keep them in power.