Morsels Of Truth: By Bil Lepp
Imagine planning to build a big multiuse business park with greenspaces, shops, a transportation hub, restaurants and other pleasant business. This facility would employ up to eleven people an acre on about 300 acres of land. I wouldn’t really want to go there, but more sociable people than I find such places agreeable. It would theoretically entice people to move to West Virginia, provide jobs, benefit the economy and draw tourists.
Now imagine someone else wanted to build a factory on that same piece of land to melt rocks into lava at 2700 degrees Fahrenheit. There would be 80 to 100 trucks coming and going all day carrying in supplies. This operation, on the same 300 acres, would employ one person per acre instead of eleven. Plus there would be a 230 foot smoke stack that belches out several of the chemicals found in cigarette smoke- as well as 16.4 tons of Sulfuric Acid Mist (SULFURIC ACID MIST!) a year- for a total of 393 tons of hazardous air pollutants annually. Oh, also it’s more-or-less across the street from an elementary school.
“Is this the plot of the next Jack Reacher novel?” you’re asking yourself. “Is Reacher going to go in there and discover a nefarious plot by small-town officials to thwart the citizen’s wishes and build a 230 foot cigarette across the street from school kids? Oh, Reacher is gonna jack them dudes up!... Or is it Dr. Doofenshmirtz, and Perry the Platypus is about to save the day?”
It’s not the plot of a Reacher novel. I have no proof that government officials involved in this plan are nefarious or evil. It ain’t an episode of Phineas & Ferb either. It is, however, happening in the tiny Eastern Panhandle town of Ranson, WV, where city officials are, um… suspected to have, um… allegedly…maybe, pulled a bait-and-switch on the good folks of Jefferson County.
Jesus, water tanks, and clock towers were among the seven things in Ranson, WV, that were permitted by code to be over 90 feet tall. The code doesn’t actually specify Jesus, but it does say belfries. Suppose you wanted facilitate the release of 16.4 tons of Sulfuric Acid Mist into the air every year. What complicated, clandestine, series of events would you need to unleash behind the scenes to accomplish this?
When nobody was looking the Ranson City Council added the word “stacks” to the list of things that could be over 90 feet tall in Ranson and a 300 acre parcel of land shifted from becoming a booming, crowd drawing, economic pleasantry into a rock melting, insulation making, toxin producing plant that conveniently burns coal and natural gas in a region looking for reasons to burn coal and gas.
Okay, it was way more complicated than that. Way more. You’ll have to read this Forbes article to get the whole picture. Also, I’m obviously over-hyping the Sulfuric Acid Mist aspect. The point of the plant isn’t to produce acid mist, but it struck me as particularly ominous.
Fear not though. It’s all perfectly safe. “Austin Caperton, secretary of the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, defended…the project…and insisted that the plant won't be a public-health threat.
“Our scientists and engineers with the (environmental department) have reviewed all available data, and have assured me there is virtually no other state in America that would have denied this permit,” he said in the statement.”Possibly because the people behind this project wouldn’t even consider taking the idea to any other state because those states don’t have the same industry friendly attitudes and policies West Virginia has.
Mississippi has a similar plant, and there’s one in Canada. The Danish company that owns all three says there have been no significant health problems associated with those plants, and maybe that’s true. But if you cut out the crazy states, like California, and the states that just don’t have the 100,000 to 125,000 gallons of water per day to spare to operate the plant, or the readily available coal and natural gas resources to fuel the plant, that really only leaves places like Mississippi, Louisiana and West Virginia. And those three states almost always see the benefits of giving industry huge tax breaks and friendly environmental oversight. So if by “virtually no other state in America,” Caperton is excluding virtually 47 states from consideration, he’s probably correct.
If I’m summing up David Levine’s article correctly, this is what happened. The state of West Virginia made a deal to sell $80 billion worth of natural gas to China. China needed a place to sell some of that gas at maximum profit. The cheapest way to sell the gas would be to sell it in West Virginia. Politicians in Jefferson County made it possible, over loud public protest, for the Mountaineer Pipeline to cut through Jefferson County with the idea that it might attract big gas burning industry to Jefferson Co. State officials, local politicians in Ranson, and members of the Jefferson County Development Authority made a deal with Rockwool to shelve development of the multiuse area which would incentivize people to move to the state, create hundreds of jobs, attract more businesses, home building, a transportation hub in the greater Washington, D.C. area, increase tax revenue and generally make people’s lives easier, and in its place build a gas burning, rock melting plant which employs 150 people, prohibits the development of everything else but gas burning plants as its neighbors, goes a decade without paying taxes and spews harmless Sulfuric Acid Mist into the air.
It seems hinky. It’s almost as if our state and local governments went out of their way too- if not secretly at least covertly- override a plan that would have greatly benefited the community and state economically, and instead helped out China, a Danish company, and the gas industry.
Bil Lepp is a nationally renowned storyteller and a PEN Award winning author. To see more of Bil's WV Strong content, click here.