Freedom Isn’t Free

by Belle Waring on January 13, 2014

ETA: It has occurred to me only just now that this post would have better had it been titled “America: rRuck Yeah!

You have probably already read about the horrible chemical spill in West Virginia last Thursday, which the New York Times has a stunner headline: Critics Say Chemical Spill Highlights Lax West Virginia Regulations. Oh, really? (You can read lots of good posts on this and previous environmental and labor disputes at Lawyers, Guns and Money—you can start looking at Erik Loomis’ posts as he also has great series along the lines of ‘this day in labor history’.)

300,000 were left with poisoned drinking water (coming out of the tap!) after specialty chemical-producer Freedom Industries spilled some 5,000 gallons of 4-Methylcyclohexane Methanol into the Kanawha Valley’s water treatment intake near Charleston. The water remains clear although poisonous, but smells helpfully like licorice. Also, boiling it doesn’t help.

Obviously this logo is but a minor blot on the company’s record vs. its actual malfeasance but uh…it’s a crime against good design, since my daughters looked at it and asked, “what’s rReedom Industries?” Also really looks as if it should have the smoking twin towers photoshopped into the background, and perhaps a big glistening tear into the eagle’s eye, and it would be a good blog header for Pamela Geller. Hey, remember her? (She doesn’t follow good trigger safety at all, I totally just learned this. But she’s a teetotaler also, so.)

freedom2

No charges have been filed against Freedom Industries, the company that owns the plant, but the United States attorney’s office has already begun an investigation into the spill.

“Whenever you have a discharge of a pollutant or a hazardous substance you have potential violation of the environmental laws,” said Booth Goodwin, the United States attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia, according to a news report on WVVA.com.

This is not the first chemical accident to hit West Virginia’s Kanawha Valley.

After an explosion at a West Virginia chemical plant owned by Bayer CropScience killed two employees in 2008, a 2010 congressional investigation found that managers refused for several hours to tell emergency responders the nature of the blast or the toxic chemical it released. It also found that they later misused a law intended to keep information from terrorists to try to stop federal investigators from learning what had happened. The plant manufactured the same chemical that was processed in a giant 1985 explosion that killed 10,000 in Bhopal, India.

West Virginia is also no stranger to accidents in the coal industry. [!—ed. note]

In 2012, federal prosecutors charged David C. Hughart, a top executive at Massey Energy, a West Virginia coal operator, with a felony count and a second misdemeanor conspiracy count related to the deaths of 29 coal miners in a 2009 explosion at West Virginia’s Upper Big Branch mine. Prosecutors said that Mr. Hughart and others knowingly conspired to violate safety laws at Massey’s mines and worked to hide those violations by giving advance warnings of surprise inspections by the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

In 2009, an investigation by The New York Times found that hundreds of workplaces in West Virginia had violated pollution laws without paying fines. In interviews at the time, current and former West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection employees said their enforcement efforts had been undermined by bureaucratic disorganization; a departmental preference to let polluters escape punishment if they promised to try harder; and a revolving door of regulators who left for higher-paying jobs at the companies they once policed.

In June 2009, four environmental groups petitioned the E.P.A. to take over much of West Virginia’s handling of the Clean Water Act, citing a “nearly complete breakdown” in the state.

“Historically, there had been a questionable enforcement ethic,” said Matthew Crum, a former state mining director at the state’s Department of Environmental Protection.

Cindy Rank, chairwoman of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy’s mining committee, said that the coal lobby has wielded great influence in crafting state environmental regulations. “Accidents are always preventable. For the most part I think that’s true in these disasters that keep happening,” she said. She recalled negotiations over a groundwater protection bill from the early 1990s. “We swallowed hard and allowed the coal industry to get away with a lot in that bill,” she said.

{ 37 comments }

1

MPAVictoria 01.13.14 at 12:51 pm

That logo is appalling! What audience is it supposed to appeal to anyway?

2

Pete 01.13.14 at 1:03 pm

@1: “Patriots”.

3

Belle Waring 01.13.14 at 1:05 pm

Residents of Galt’s Gulch? Viewers of The Colbert Report?

4

MPAVictoria 01.13.14 at 1:24 pm

“@1: “Patriots”.”

But even the most red blooded of red blooded Americans must be able to see through such obvious pandering…
/Even as I typed it I realized I was being optimistic to the point of giddiness. Sigh.

5

Bruce Wilder 01.13.14 at 1:40 pm

Freedom Industries, led by its President, Gary Southern, poisoned American Water.

6

bjk 01.13.14 at 1:51 pm

Interesting fact: WV house of delegates has been dominated by Democrats since Herbert Hoover was in office.

7

Phil 01.13.14 at 1:56 pm

It’s the first two words of that NYT headline that really get me. Those pesky critics, going around saying critical things!

8

Belle Waring 01.13.14 at 2:18 pm

bjk: don’t blame me; I voted for Kodos! Or: my faith in the two-party system is shattered! Or, perhaps more helpfully, one may buy Democrats as easily as one may buy Republicans, and often more cheaply! Although the great state of West Virginia was founded on…I was going to say abolition, but maybe we’ll just go with “not a lot of active military support for chattel slavery”…it nonetheless is a Southern state. Boy howdy. Hoo doggy. Hot damn. I happen to know this personally, because my brother just bought a place there and we spent part of the summer. It is outside of Mingo, which is to say, I was unaware one could drive so far from DC and not already be in Kentucky. (My children do not do car journeys. They have more or less refused to go back, even though they concede it is nice. I think we’ll have to do it while they have jet lag and let them sleep in the back of some rented van-womb. They were like “we could have flown to Northern China!) But WVa’s extremely white. There was no need for the Democrats to take the fall on local Civil Rights issues (with no Negroes to focibly integrate into the local public schools which…well, they were conveniently already not providing very many public services at all!), so no Southern Strategy for the Republicans to pursue, and with a small baronial ruling elite in place there was no particular reason why the Republicans should be able to winkle the Democrats out, and there they are, for the most part nonetheless being the wretches the Republicans would be if the voters would only give them the chance. They’re bound to sometime. But, though there’s been much union-crushing tyranny, there’s been union-organizing bravery as well, and Republicans never do go down well there.

9

Jeffrey Davis 01.13.14 at 2:47 pm

bjk,

It’s a truism that public Democrats in this part of the country (West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, etc) would make a Democrat from one of the Coasts withdraw the hem of their garment in shock.

10

Trader Joe 01.13.14 at 3:02 pm

Coal, chemicals and biotech have been the backbone of the West VA economy for decades and the holy trinity of Labor, Legislators and Lawsuits have all fed at the trough of these industries.

There’s no excusing what happened, but its not like there’s exactly been a groundswell of support demanding California-like environmental controls and cheating the regulators is gamed the same as running shine. Industrial accidents are as old as the hills in West Virginia. Belle’s list of ‘accidents’ go back a couple of years – this has been going on for decades.

11

mattski 01.13.14 at 3:54 pm

Boy howdy.

Whole thing just makes my ass chew gum.

12

dfinberg 01.13.14 at 4:17 pm

Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to drink

13

Anderson 01.13.14 at 4:17 pm

“not a lot of active military support for chattel slavery”

I’m pretty sure that’s on the W. Va. state seal, in Latin.

14

Plume 01.13.14 at 5:06 pm

Jeffrey Davis 9,

I think it’s also the case that Dems today, even on the coasts, are a mere shadow of what they were back in the 30s thru the 60s. And even then, they weren’t exactly truly “progressive.” They were always so “practical.”

I’m in my 50s, and have seen a steady march rightward by the Dems over my lifetime. The GOP moreso, of course. But the Dems have definitely embraced the Reagan/Thatcher line economically, while trying to juggle various parts of their constituency completely at odds with that line. Today’s Dems are far to the right of their metaphorical fathers and mothers, and far to the right of their peers across the pond.

I naively hoped (in 2008) that Obama would provide at least some counter to that decline, but I was wrong. Never thought he would forcefully oppose this march, seeing him as a moderate at the time, but I thought he’d at least make somewhat of an effort. Instead, he’s sided with the march, hoping a smiling face would mitigate. Obama is the true conservative, with his Republican opponents taking the place of once truly marginalized hard rightists. People who once would have been shunned by our society overall, kept under dirty rocks, are now the mainstream of the GOP, have their own media shows and outlets and have become a part of the everyday.

I voted for Jill Stein this last time.

15

MPAVictoria 01.13.14 at 5:10 pm

“I’m pretty sure that’s on the W. Va. state seal, in Latin.”

Everything sounds better in Latin. It all classy and what not.

16

Sören Brandes 01.13.14 at 5:14 pm

We learn: There is no such thing as a free lunch. See also (even though it doesn’t fit with this example): http://alexandreafonso.wordpress.com/2013/12/06/how-margaret-thatcher-created-soviet-britain/

17

Plume 01.13.14 at 5:15 pm

MPAV 11,

Yep. High tax European nations typically have a higher standard of living. Its citizens live longer, healthier lives, suffer far less from social maladies, unwanted pregnancies, have lower infant mortality, less inequality and higher social mobility.

Which is logical. The public gets a far better deal on public goods and services than private ones, and it’s not close. Yes, there is waste, and we’d be far better off if we completely canned most of the security state and the military overkill. But nothing brings a better bang for the buck than a truly public good via the public sector.

The private simply can’t compete with it on value, cost, impact. The public sector doesn’t pay execs millions and millions in salary and other compensation; it doesn’t need to pay for endless marketing and ads; it doesn’t need to pay shareholders; it doesn’t need to pay millions to reduce its taxes; and it doesn’t need to pay millions to lobbyists to protect and expand its place in the market.

It also doesn’t have to make a profit.

In short, overhead for a private enterprise towers over a public sector one. And when we share the burden of cost across generations, we further improve the deal. The private sector doesn’t do that. It doesn’t share the burden of cost or spread the benefits of usage. It’s a rotten model for overall societal impact.

18

Donald A. Coffin 01.13.14 at 6:10 pm

When I was in grad school in West Virginia (1970-1975), the two big environmental issues were acid mine drainage and drag-line strip-mining (i.e., cutting the tops off mountains). Things like the actions of Freedom Industries make me wonder how much has really changed there…

19

Plume 01.13.14 at 6:17 pm

When you listen to a Manchin or any of the WV reps, it’s cringe-worthy how much they have to do public obeisance to the Coal Companies.

The state is bought and paid for by them. Of course, every state is, to one corporate power or another, and to “the markets” generally. It seems “dirtier” in WV because the buyer is literally dirty. Black soot, black lung, poisoned waterways, the destruction of mountain tops, etc. etc.

But the rest of the country shouldn’t feel “superior.” They’re in the pockets of one or many corporate interests as well.

20

DaveL 01.13.14 at 6:22 pm

That’s one of those logos never meant to be seen except in industry publications and industry websites. For any number of examples of such from a different sector, see almost any defense contractor or defense industry publication or for that matter any military website.*

*Military websites are analogous to military music.

21

Billikin 01.13.14 at 8:32 pm

“4-Methylcyclohexane Methanol”

“You can go out with Ethyl, but don’t go out with Methyl.”
– My high school chemistry teacher

22

UserGoogol 01.13.14 at 8:59 pm

Having an eagle on your logo doesn’t automatically make it horrible looking. (The USPS logo prominently uses an eagle but is pretty stylish and iconic, for instance.) There are just graphic design issues beyond the maudlin attempt at patriotism.

I imagine a big part of the answer is more banal: their logo doesn’t really matter so they didn’t really put that much effort into it. They provide chemicals to the mining, steel, and cement industries in West Virginia. That sort of bland and technical business-to-business industry really doesn’t have to look good, they just need to look professional enough that they look like a real company. And when stories like this happen, they benefit from having a rather forgettable logo. They obviously have draped themselves in patriotic iconography and they have their reasons for wanting to do that, but the fact that the logo is poorly designed is kind of a separate issue.

23

Jeffrey Davis 01.13.14 at 9:12 pm

Plume@19

The amazing thing about coal in the mountain region is that the influence of the coal companies is increasing despite the rapid drop in the actual significance of coal to the mountain region’s economy.

24

Ed Herdman 01.13.14 at 9:47 pm

I like John Quiggin’s text art better: “Ross Douthat is something of a punchline in these [arts .”

Can’t help but think of Senator Byrd talking about the state being “the rock-bottomest of places.” Seems like once industrialization hits the state it will be a finely sifted field of cinders, instead of the glorious sweeping mountain ranges of old.

25

Haftime 01.13.14 at 10:28 pm

Billikin – if you think going out with Methyl’s bad – Phenyl will clean you right out.

26

Ragweed 01.14.14 at 1:14 am

“ but don’t go out with Methyl.”

Yea, you’ll really go out with Methyl. . .

My dad’s side of the family came from that neck of the woods – well, back and forth across the river between WV and Miggs county Ohio. Rumor is that my Great Grandparents were organizers in the mine wars. One night they went out the back door of their cabin as the Pinkerton’s broke down the front door, escaped across the river to Ohio and never went back.

There is a strong backbone of people who love the mountains and the forest, hunting and fishing. They were mostly broken several decades ago, but some groups are still fighting against mountaintop removal and the like.

27

js. 01.14.14 at 5:12 am

Smokin’ twin towers are not bad, but I’m really disappointed they didn’t manage to work in some stars and bars somehow someway. Because nothing says freedom like…, etc.

28

Ed Herdman 01.14.14 at 7:39 am

The bars are there but wavy, probably because they’ve been hosed down with some very strong solvent.

29

Ed Herdman 01.14.14 at 10:42 am

It’s too bad they don’t have a logo like Freedom Industries of Anaheim:
http://www.yelp.com/biz/freedom-industries-anaheim
Welcome to The Village.

30

Belle Waring 01.14.14 at 4:00 pm

Ed–I think js was hoping for something more like what was on this tasteful Stars and Bars-adorned axe ritchere:

The report claims a black man who lived at the home that was burning was already upset about the fire at his home, so when a fire department lieutenant saw the ax with the flag painted on it, he told a supervisor about it and took it away before the homeowner saw it. The son of Assistant Fire Chief Jeff Holton admitted he had painted the flag on the ax.
Holton told investigators he did it to “touch up” the ax at Station 42 and said to him it signified his small town roots and core values of family and hard work.
He denied being racist or intending to offend anyone.”

Needless to say, these are the small town roots of having black families do all the hard work for you…and there literally ain’t anything you can do and be racist.

31

Collin Street 01.14.14 at 8:49 pm

I imagine a big part of the answer is more banal: their logo doesn’t really matter so they didn’t really put that much effort into it. They provide chemicals to the mining, steel, and cement industries in West Virginia. That sort of bland and technical business-to-business industry really doesn’t have to look good, they just need to look professional enough that they look like a real company. And when stories like this happen, they benefit from having a rather forgettable logo. They obviously have draped themselves in patriotic iconography and they have their reasons for wanting to do that, but the fact that the logo is poorly designed is kind of a separate issue.

Absolutely it’s a signalling mechanism. But here’s the thing: graphic design is cheaper than it used to be, so the standards for what you need to pass as “good enough” have risen. For about the cost of a longish run of flyers you can get not just a new logo but a full branding package [colours, fonts, sample layouts etc]: not an outstanding one, but better than this.

Graphic design _this_ poor sends me a signal, all right: it tells me that the firm either can’t afford basic business expenses or is run by people who don’t understand the choices they have open to them, and in either case I’m not filled with confidence with their product standards or their OHS and environmental compliance. What we have here isn’t “good enough”, in other words… and it turns out that this message was pretty accurate, no?

32

roger gathman 01.15.14 at 12:26 am

I’m disappointed with the lack of comment about Freedom Industry’s rehabilitative aspect.
http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2014-01-13/meet-freedom-industries-the-company-behind-the-west-virginia-spill
.”.. state records in West Virginia show that a man named Carl L. Kennedy II joined Gary Southern in forming the company years ago. A well-known restaurant owner and man-about-town in Charleston, according to the Gazette, Kennedy is a twice-convicted felon. The paper reported on Sunday that he pleaded guilty in federal court in West Virginia in 2005 to tax evasion and was sentenced to three years in prison, a penalty that was reduced after he agreed to wear a wire and make controlled cocaine buys in a separate investigation. Kennedy had some background in the cocaine field; in 1987 he “pleaded guilty to selling between 10 and 12 ounces of cocaine in connection with a scandal that toppled then-Charleston Mayor Mike Roark,” the Gazette explained. Kennedy apparently no longer works at Freedom Industries. “

Here we see that hard work can still get a man to the top, if a state is not tangled up with freedom-destroying regulation. God bless those brave entrepreneurs!

33

Ed Herdman 01.15.14 at 1:10 am

@ Belle: Guess I’ve been out of the South too long…I didn’t even recognize the reference. That’s really something. “House burning down? We’ll just chop up a new cross for your front yard to go with the fire with this here axe.”

34

Belle Waring 01.15.14 at 2:46 am

Ed: LOL

35

js. 01.15.14 at 5:23 am

Belle is of course right re what I was hoping for. But I’m more curious what _else_ ‘stars and bars’ could mean. Just the US flag? (Also, too, that ax thing is beyond horrifying—none of this is making me want to visit the South any time soon.)

36

Belle Waring 01.15.14 at 4:07 pm

I’m terribly afraid that the “humorous” news items I share with my daughters all the time have convinced them they never want to move to the US at all. (Not “back” to the US, since they’ve never lived there…)

37

Tangurena 01.18.14 at 4:28 pm

And on Friday, they filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The largest creditor is the IRS to whom they owe $2.4M for failing to pay taxes in 2000-2008.

There is no record of Chemstream Holdings, the company listed as Freedom’s owner on the bankruptcy filing, with either the West Virginia secretary of state or the Pennsylvania secretary of state.

Freedom owed federal taxes for the years 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008.

The total amount owed to the IRS is $2,433,449.15, according to the three liens.

http://www.wvgazette.com/News/201401170030?page=1

It would be interesting to see if Chemstream Holdings is a real company at all, or something fake filed in the bankruptcy filing. Or if the “owner” is the same sort of “owner” that Ken uncovered about Prenda Law over at Popehat.

Comments on this entry are closed.