Jan. 22, 2014 at 11:56pm

By Roger Horton. president 

Citizens for Coal

It has been a bit more than a week since a chemical company in Charleston suffered a breach in one of their storage tanks, allowing approximately 7,500 gallons of 4-Methylcyclohexane Methanol – a chemical used in several industrial processes, including the processing of coal in preparation plants — into the Elk River just north of Charleston.

In the two weeks that have since passed, almost 300,000 West Virginians have struggled to cope with the lack of access to good, reliable drinking water. Today, it remains unclear whether the water is truly safe. Businesses have had to shutter, schools close and parents worry, due to lack of certainty about the quality of water. It has truly been a disaster of the first magnitude and the people of West Virginia have suffered a great deal.

Now, before the situation has even been resolved with certainty, West Virginia is being descended on by another — perhaps worse — plague. From every nook and cranny, vultures taking the form of lawyers, “citizens groups” and “activist media” have swooped in to claim their share of the spoils of the disaster. 

The company responsible for the spill, Freedom Industries, has been driven into bankruptcy and lawyers have blanketed our television and radio airwaves with ads touting “class action lawsuits” against everyone they can come up with an angle to blame. “Citizens Groups” (read radical environmentalists) have been pushing their anti-industrial, anti-business rhetoric via the Internet and through friendly “media” like the Charleston Gazette, the Huffington Post, Business Insider and even Al Jazeera. It seems everyone is trying to milk this disaster for everything it is worth — to make a dime, score a political gotcha or “reveal” how America is failing. Meanwhile, the real victims — you remember those 300,000 West Virginians don’t you- — are still sitting at home wondering if their water is safe to drink. West Virginia’s political leaders are trying to answer that question. They have mobilized every available resource to determine the extent of the problem and come up with viable, responsible solutions and real answers for those 300,000 West Virginians.

I used to work in a coal preparation plant before I changed jobs and went to work on a surface mine. We used the chemical in question to “clean” coal — that is to separate the coal from the other materials, rock and minerals, to get a purer form of coal. I worked around the chemical closely. Would I drink it — no — but I also wouldn’t drink wood alcohol, which is a very similar thing. However the question today isn’t about that — most of the spill has been now washed downstream and been diluted to the point it would barely be detectable. Yet, I see posts on the internet which claim to show bathtubs orange with contaminated water, jello floating around in a glass. It looks great on camera and might fool a reporter but it has nothing to do with reality. At the concentrations we had, this chemical would have been invisible and probably detectable only through the odor.

Now, I want to get to my real point. Some of these “citizens groups” and “media stars” as well as some of the ambulance chasing attorneys want to blame this spill on the coal industry — some of the more radical are even going so far as to try to push it off on both the coal and natural gas industries and even the entire industrial economy of our nation.  The bottom line is this was an accident — a spill by a chemical company at a storage facility in Charleston. It was NOT a mining or a fracking accident. Neither the coal nor the natural gas industries are to blame any more than someone who buys a Dairy Queen milk shake is responsible for your heart attack from overeating. Accidents happen — it is a fact of life. Some are much worse than others and in every instance the guilty party (if there is one) should be held accountable. But we must be careful to not allow these new “friends” of West Virginia to lead us into a witch hunt. We don’t need vultures. We don’t need radicals coming here trying to make points at our expense. We need answers and we need to get the water turned back on and people’s faith restored in our water system.

Oh, and by the way, ever wonder who gets the “big payday” from those class actions lawsuits? Well, one thing is for certain it won’t likely be those 300,000 West Virginians who have gone without water for 10 days. They may get a check for enough money to buy a bag of groceries, but in the end, it will be those new found “lawyer friends” who walk away with the big money. It will be those newfound “citizens groups” who cart away the checks to turn around and use the money to continue their assault against coal and natural gas, and it will be those “media stars” who head off to New York or Boston or Los Angeles with their “Pulitzer Prize” stories, patting themselves on the back for being “heroes.”

Meanwhile, back here in West Virginia, we will have fewer jobs, fewer opportunities and, guess what, fewer real answers because the vultures swooped in and kept us from doing what needed to be done.