A new, statewide poll finds that West Virginians support more environmental regulations and protections following the devastating chemical spill in the Elk River, which left tens of thousands without potable water. The study was conducted to “gauge West Virginians’ reactions to the Elk River chemical spill and to understand what impact, if any, the spill has had on their attitudes about environmental regulations,” the Sierra Club reports.
According to the poll, West Virginians feel that if the state does not take a different approach to environmental protection, they are likely to see more incidents like the January 9 chemical spill by Freedom Industries. Sixty-two percent of voters responding to the poll said they would be more likely to support a candidate who favors strong regulations and protections for water and air, while only 30 percent said they would be more likely to support a candidate who claims more regulations will hurt jobs and the state’s economy.
In fact, there is little evidence that increased regulations kill jobs, as industry groups and the politicians they sponsor would argue. While regulations may end some jobs, they also create jobs. “The effects [of regulations] on jobs are negligible,” Richard Morgenstern, author of a study detailing the effects of regulations on jobs and a former EPA employee who served from the Reagan-era to the Clinton-era, told ProPublica. “They’re not job-creating or job-destroying on average.”
West Virginians across the state are still concerned about the spill, including those living in areas not directly affected by the recent disaster. The Sierra Club poll finds that the majority of voters believe a greater focus on regulations would have prevented the spill. West Virginians also hold the coal industry responsible for air and water contamination in the state.
A majority of voters in every political party say they are more likely to support a candidate who is independent of the coal industry. The majority of West Virginians participating in the poll also feel that the coal industry and corporate lobbyists have too much power in the state.
Coal is one of West Virginia’s primary economic resources. According to a report by The Nation, “West Virginia’s population suffers from some of the worst socioeconomic conditions in the country, and there is no divorcing these realities from the coal industry’s domination of the state.”
As anyone who attended school in this state can attest, the widespread notion that one can easily obtain a well-paying coal-mining job with little to no education continues to be a significant contributor to this trend… However, the coal jobs that sustained generations in these families are no longer there, and Walmart is now the state’s leading employer.
Unfortunately, state officials are generally too close to the industry to address problems with it. West Virginia’s current governor, Earl Ray Tomblin (D), accepted more than $350,000 from the energy industry during the last election. More than half that amount came directly from the coal industry. Governor Tomblin has also warned the EPA about “unreasonable” regulations and said during his State of the State address that he would “never back down from the EPA because of its misguided policies on coal.”