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Published: Thursday, 1/23/2014


Hell in ‘almost heaven’

If aliens were to come down from space to study humankind, they might conclude that the idea of regulating behavior to protect the earthly environment had few friends.

In Congress and state legislatures, they would hear regular denunciations of measures that inconvenienced business. They would see citizens voting for these politicians, in apparent agreement with their beliefs.

The visitors from space would need to stay until something happened to interrupt the anti-regulation chorus — something such as the major chemical spill in West Virginia’s Elk River.

The spill meant days of no drinking water for residents of Charleston, West Virginia’s capital, and surrounding counties. The truth is that regulations never have enough friends until it becomes obvious they are needed.

As disasters go, West Virginia’s could have been worse. The roughly 7,500 gallons of the chemical 4-methylcyclohexane methanol that accidentally leaked from a 35,000-gallon holding tank is not necessarily fatal, although it sickened many people.

But the incident still made “almost heaven” a living hell — and raised some troubling questions. What sense does it make that the state didn’t regularly inspect those tanks because the facility is used for storage, not processing?

The Wall Street Journal reported that environmental inspectors hadn’t visited the site since 1991. And why do dangerous chemicals need to be stored next to a river anyway?

What fools these mortals be, other forms of intelligent life might conclude.

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