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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

  • Erin Brockovich: After Chemical Spill, West Virginians Organizing "Stronger Than I’ve Ever Seen"

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    West Virginia has begun partially lifting its ban on tap water five days after a chemical spill in the Elk River. More than 300,000 residents have been unable to use their water for drinking, cooking or bathing since Thursday, when the company Freedom Industries leaked up to 7,500 gallons of 4-methylcyclohexanemethanol (crude MCHM), an agent used in coal extraction, into the water supply. Scores of schools and businesses have been closed, including in the state capital, Charleston. The ban has been lifted in four zones so far, but is still in effect for a vast majority of residents. Dozens of people have been hospitalized since the spill, with symptoms including nausea, vomiting, dizziness, diarrhea, rashes and reddened skin. We get reaction from Erin Brockovich, the renowned environmentalist, consumer advocate and legal researcher. While a single mother of three working as a legal assistant, she helped win the biggest class action lawsuit in American history, holding the California power company Pacific Gas & Electric Company for polluting a city’s water supply. Her story was told in the Oscar-winning film "Erin Brockovich." Today, Brockovich and her team are investigating the spill in West Virginia. On Monday evening, she held a town hall meeting in Charleston to discuss the spill with local residents. "They’re banding together stronger than I’ve ever seen before," Brockovich says of West Virginians self-organizing in the spill’s aftermath.

  • West Virginia Water Crisis: Behind Chemical Spill, Gaping Holes in State and Federal Regulation

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    The Freedom Industries site behind the West Virginia chemical spill is just a mile upriver from the state’s largest water treatment plant, owned by American Water. But despite the obvious dangers to the source of 16 percent of West Virginia residents’ water supply, the spill has exposed major holes in how the state regulates the dangerous chemicals used coal mining and processing, its leading industry. The chemical, 4-methylcyclohexanemethanol (crude MCHM), does not receive close federal or state oversight. Environmental inspectors have not visited the Freedom Industries facility since 1991. Under West Virginia law, chemicals storage facilities are not even subject to inspections. The plant also had no groundwater protection plan in place. We speak with Mike Elk, a labor reporter for In These Times magazine who has extensively covered chemical regulation in the United States, including at the West, Texas, fertilizer plant where 15 people died in an explosion last year. And we’re joined from West Virginia by Erin Brockovich, the renowned environmentalist and consumer advocate.

  • Dog Whistle Politics: How Politicians Use Coded Racism to Push Through Policies Hurting All

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    Two months after 47 million food stamp recipients were hit with $5 billion in cuts, more are on the way as lawmakers finalize a new farm bill. The measure is likely to slash another $9 billion in food stamps over the next decade, depriving more than 800,000 households of up to $90 in aid per month. We look at how politicians have used coded racial appeals to win support for cuts like these and similar efforts since the 1960s with Ian Haney López, author of the new book, "Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism & Wrecked the Middle Class." A senior fellow at Demos and law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, López argues that "this is about race as it wrecks the whole middle class. This sort of racism is being used to fool a lot of whites into voting for Republicans whose main allegiance is to corporate interests."