Monday Roundup: How West, Tex., Grew
Shawn Poynter/Rural ArchiveJoseph B. Uehlein, center, awaits departure on a tour of the historic Portal 31 mine at the Kentucky Coal Mining Museum in Benham. Uehlein was part of a conference in Harlan, Ky., April 19-21, exploring economic alternatives for East Kentucky. The conference, “Appalachia’s Bright Future,” was sponsored by Kentuckians for the Commonwealth.
The Daily Beast reports on how the town of West, Texas, grew up around the fertilizer factory that exploded last week, killing 14 people and injuring somewhere around 200. The piece points to the difficult compromises rural communities sometimes face in how they develop.
When the plant was built in 1962, it was mostly surrounded by fields and a few small homes. But that began to change as the town grew up around it. The nursing home and the 25-unit apartment complex were constructed in the ’60s and late ’70s and were located within 150 yards of the plant. Subdivisions and homes began being built in the 1980s. The plant’s current owner, Donald Adair, bought it in 2004.
“Fifty years ago, it was just good business,” says Mimi Montgomery Irwin, a local historian and owner of the Village Bakery downtown. “People needed jobs, and someone needed to sell the property. It made sense for the time. We are on the hub of a farm region. You need a business like that to support the farming. Maybe they will be smarter about it now, but the business entity itself is needed.”
Joe Kotch, 71, says he moved to West one year after the plant was built. “They extended the town out,” he says as he drinks a coffee at the bakery, located near the train tracks that go through the town and bring chemicals to the plant. It was a bad idea, he said, but people became comfortable with it.
“It was always a bad idea to build around it, but no one thought it would ever happen,” he said. “I’ve been here for 50 years, and nothing has happened.” Kotch says the plant should be rebuilt outside of town. “It happened one time, it could happen again,” he says. “I think they should rebuild on [the owner’s] farming land.”
Also, President Obama announced he will attend a memorial service for victims on Thursday in Texas.
Oil Spill Investigation. Mayflower, Ark., residents may get the short end of the stick in the federal investigation of an Exxon oil pipeline spill there.
More than 200,000 gallons of heavy Canadian crude oil spilled in the small town north of Little Rock on March 29. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has ceded investigation of the spill to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, a branch of the Department of Transportation that is responsible for developing and enforcing regulations for 2.5 million miles of pipelines.
Detractors worry that the agency has close ties to the oil industry and does not have the expertise of the NTSB to investigate the spill.
InsideClimate News reports that the Mayflower, Ark., spill is unusual only in that it attracted attention:
“According to federal data, a significant pipeline spill of hazardous liquids—one that involves 50 barrels or more—occurs somewhere in the United States every three days on average. In the last three years there have been four crude oil spills as big or bigger than the Arkansas spill. The difference is that the Arkansas rupture drew national attention because it dumped oil into a residential neighborhood and forced 22 families from their homes.”
Post Office Privatization on the Agenda. Privatization of the U.S. Postal Service is likely to be a big part of the agenda at a national conference this week in Washington D.C. called “Postal Vision 2020.” Three of the conference’s big-name speakers were part of a study about privatizing part of the Postal Service. The study on privatization was funded by Pitney Bowes, which is also one of the conference’s major sponsors.
The privatization study called for giving the retail and processing operations to the private sector and leaving delivery to the public Postal Service. “Over half of the Postal Service — $35 billion in operating costs – would be handed over to private companies – companies like Pitney Bowes,” Save the Post Office says.
Rural Electric Co-op PAC Activity. Politico reports that the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association’s PAC is the biggest political contributor among energy trade associations. “NRECA PAC contributed more than $204,000 across dozens of campaigns. That includes $5,000 contributions to Reps. Jeff Miller, John Barrow, David McKinley, Bob Gibbs, Jason Smith and Jack Kingston and to PACs associated with Sens. Lisa Murkowski, Pat Roberts, Roy Blunt, John Thune and John Barrasso and Reps. Steny Hoyer, Jim Clyburn and Greg Walden.”
Wind Farm Opposition. BP has announced that it intends to sell its entire renewable energy division. But that won’t keep the multinational corporation for moving ahead with plans to build a wind farm in New York, just south of the Canadian border on the eastern side of Lake Erie. Residents near the proposed facility in Cape Vincent, N.Y., have vowed to fight the development.
State law requires a review of the proposed facility. “That process has angered many in the town of Cape Vincent, because it allows the state to supersede local communities’ zoning regulations when it comes to the siting of power projects,” North Country Public Radio reports.