MHP   |  January 19, 2014

Is W. Va. 'on sale to the highest bidder'?

Josh Fox, Frances Beinecke and Bob Kincaid join the MHP panel to talk about the chemical spill in West Virginia and if corporate interests are affecting the water supply in the state.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> welcome back. i'm melissa harris-perry. let's go to west virginia , where coal is king. the state produces more coal than any other state of the union but one. more than 120 million tons of coal in 2012 alone. and a key part of that mining enterprise is a company called freedom industries, which distributes a chemical used to clean coal . freedom industries is based in west virginia 's capital city , charleston. and right now, the company is under fire, after a rupture in one of its storage tanks leaked chemicals and threatened the water supply of thousands. the elk river , which runs through charleston and connects to the ohio river , flowing into cincinnati, was tainted after 7,500 gallons of the compound named, and i'm going to say this slowly, and quite likely incorrectly, methylcylohexane pilled into the water. nearly 300,000 residents were urged not to drink or bathe in their running water . that was on the ninth. since then, they have given the go ahead for residents to drink the water again. all the blue on that map means that the water is fine. unless you're pregnant. a statement on the water company 's website read, quote, due to limited availability of data and out of an abundance of caution, you may wish to consider an alternate drinking water source for pregnant women until the chemical is at a nondetectable level in the water distribution system. and there are lingering questions about the possible health effects of the chemical. the charleston gazette reported two days ago that the key corporate study used by federal health fishes actually tested a pure form of the chemicals' main ingredient and may not account for potential toxicity of other components. in the wake of the spill, president obama has declared a state of emergency for the affected counties. in a formal state investigation was launched and more than two dozen lawsuits were filed against freedom industries. but on friday, freedom industries filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection , giving freedom industries a reprieve from having to answer to the lawsuits, at least for now. on set with me now is josh fox, director and producer of gasland and gasland ii. elahe, and marcus mabry, a new york typist lead blog editor. and joining us via skype from west virginia is bob kincaid, the cofounder of the an laborya health emergency campaign, and a broadcaster at the head on radio network . so nice to have you here this morning, bob.

>> thank you very much for the t opportunity to talk with you, melissa .

>> so, bob, you have described this circumstance to my producer as saying, we have allowed west virginia and the country to be turned into a liquidation asset for the corporate class. what does that mean and how is that related to the story i just told about what happened in west virginia ?

>> reporter: for over a hundred years now, melissa , everything in this state has been for sale to the highest bidder. for the most part, that largely entails the coal industry , but it also entails the chemical industry , going back to the discovery of brine wells in what would become west virginia , way over a hundred years ago. we have sacrificed the health of the people of this state . we have sacrificed their ability to raise healthy families. we have sacrificed everything in order to enhance those corporate profits for people who are outside this state . let's understand that most of west virginia is still owned in excess of 90% by out of state interests.

>> so, obviously, i mean, that's kind of an enormous way of -- so we're looking at this thing, josh, and i want to say, so one way to read this is, look, we're doing business . we're doing business and a bad thing happens, because sometimes bad things happen when we're doing business . and we feel bad about it and we're going to respond to it. but instead, what we're hearing from bob, this isn't just a bad thing happened on the way to doing some business, that this is a broader problem.

>> our regulatory structure in the united states in complete collapse right now. i don't haven't want to qualify this as a spill. a spill is something that happens by accident. you knock over one of these cups on the table. that's a spill. we had 6,000 oil and gas spills in 2012 , that was 16 a day, amounts to more oil and gas spreading in the united states than the entire " exxon valdez " spill. if you're following these issues, and this is coal, right? another fossil fuel . the fossil fuel industries trade in toxic products. the chemical that was being stored right above the water intake for 300,000, and more than that, because the elk river flows down into the gulf of mexico . and we hear these things every single day. whether it was bp three years ago or the kalamazoo, michigan, spill, which still has 100,000 gallons of crude oil at the bottom of the kalamazoo. now we see this in west virginia . this is not a spill. this is a state of permanent, criminal negligence.

>> which is not a legal designation, right? this is a political analysis .

>> it's my analysis, yes, but this is very, very commonplace. and you know, west virginia is a state that has been ravaged for a hundred years, mountaintop removal , throughout the state . employeei i blowing the tops off of mountains in the south, to an explosion of fracking wells in the north part of the state .

>> let me come to that. the idea that west virginia , on the one hand, we were just talking about soldiers as representative as this kind of american narrative of the hearty american who goes out and does things that represent who we are as a country. and coal miners generally are. these are good people who we know don't earn a lot of money, but are doing work that fuels the rest of who we are. i think that's the romantic version of what the american coal mining story is. but then we see something like this. and we see water supplies tainted, potentially, for hundreds of thousands of people, and of course, obviously, that notion that if a pregnant woman can't drink it, it raises all sorts of health concerns. .

>> i think the reality here, and josh alluded to it, this is a system tick failure to regulate and protect the public from industrial activities. this happens to be in west virginia . this could have happened in many other parts of the country. there's fracking going on in other 30 states, with chemicals that are also not disclosed. so this is a failure of the companies, it's a failure of the state , and it's a failure of the federal government to really protect the public and to ensure that the public knows what they're being exposed to. one of the really grave concerns here is there's no data on this chemical. that there is just no information. and that it's a chemical that was grandfathered over 30 years ago, under the statute that's supposed to protect us, the toxic substances control act , which is a complete failure. so, this actually is a wake-up call for america, that we need major reform of the capital indust chemical industry , if the public is to be protected.

>> let me play devil's advocate welcome, marcus. i was recently in pab ma and you're looking at these amazing locks and everything that happens that makes global trade possible in an entirely different way as a result of the digging out of the panama canal . and also, here are all the people who died and here's the enormous human cost. and i think to myself, okay, so then how do we define what counts as a failure and as of a success? so this language that all three of you have used. this is clearly a failure of our regulation. but i'm also thinking, under all of these standards, we never build the panama canal , right? or we would have gone -- or am i wrong, right? so i want you to push back on this notion of, well, people have got to die for chemicals -- i mean, for corporate progress.

>> my partner's family helped build that canal. unfortunately, i think most of you, you don't have to be the devil's advocate here. because west virginia 's own senator and his former governor, on wednesday, was giving a talk, and he actually said, he's been the devil's advocate for you and doing it from the united states senate . and in a speech on wednesday to clean coal industry, he actually said, what we have to worry about here is excessive regulation. now, this is in the wake of this -- this is what he said. so he went so far to say, the toxic substances act, which is up dating this winter, he's against updating it, providing legislation. he would like to withdraw the clean water act .

>> bob, let me bring you in. is that the takeaway story here, that we have excessive regulation?

>> melissa , they may say that, but the fact of the matter is, we don't have enough. for instance, what's already been brought up there, take into account that 300,000 people are without water right now. but not having decent water is nothing new in west virginia . in the mountaintop removal sacrifice zone of west virginia , it's nothing to have a coal company poison your well, poison your water, inject these same toxic chemicals into your ground water , into old, abandoned mines , that was used in this particular disaster. we know for a fact that people who simply live near mountaintop removal communities get sick at vastly expanded rates. there's a ton of science to be read, for instance, over at you can read all the peer reviewed science studies that show just living in west virginia can be hazardous to your health. and the fact of the matter is, while people like senator manchin say they don't want more regulation, we can't even get senator manchin to acknowledge that these studies even exist.

>> bob, i want to go out on exactly that, because we're going to come back on precisely that issue and a glimpse of exactly how difficult life is, right there in west virginia , in this