Freedom must be accountable

From CNN:

(CNN) — Almost one year after water for more than 300,000 West Virginia residents was contaminated because of a chemical spill, six former officials for the company responsible for the leak are facing federal charges…

The Freedom Industries president at the time was Gary Southern, 53, who was indicted on charges of negligent discharge of a pollutant in violation of the Clean Water Act, among other alleged violations. He also faces separate federal charges of wire and bankruptcy fraud. If convicted on all charges, he could face nearly 70 years in prison.

Three former owners of Freedom Industries were also indicted. Dennis P. Farrell, 58, William E. Tis, 60, and Charles E. Herzing, 63, were indicted on charges of negligent discharge of a pollutant and negligent discharge of refuse matter. They face up to three years in prison.

The indictment for Southern, Farrell, Tis and Herzing alleged that their company failed to make sure the tank holding MCHM was inspected for cracks and to keep it maintained. The indictment alleges that these four men approved funding “only for those projects that would result in increased business revenue for Freedom, or that were immediately necessary for required equipment maintenance.”

Two other men who worked for Freedom Industries at the time — Michael Burdette and Robert Reynolds — also face charges that they violated the Clean Water Act.

An indictment does not imply guilt or even mean that anyone will ultimately be held responsible for the panic that was put on the residents of West Virginia who couldn’t use the water coming from their faucet for weeks.  There will likely be legal maneuvering and wrangling well into 2016 in this case, so I don’t expect anything to happen quickly.

It’s one thing for an accident to happen and a spill like this take place.  I think that it should be a criminal act if someone purposefully neglects safety for dangerous chemicals and such that have the potential of causing great harm or massive damage within a community.  I don’t think there should be overburdening rules that keep businesses from profiting, but that profit should not come at the expense of the health and/or lives of people living nearby.

The courts will have to decide whether their actions were criminal or not.  For those who were harmed or displaced by this, hopefully they’ll feel like someone’s fighting on their behalf because those responsible for causing this may end up having to bear the responsibility of their actions.


7 thoughts on “Freedom must be accountable

  1. My family’s from rural Ohio, not too terribly far from Charleston, WV. In fact, they receive Charleston TV stations.

    That part of the country is economically depressed; it’s a hardscrabble region, with folks willing to take any job that comes along, even the dangerous ones like coal mining or chemical processing. The problem is, IMO, that the Job Creators sometimes get too big for their britches and start thinking that just because these are poor people, there’s no need to follow rules or take the same precautions they would in facilities closer to more affluent citizens.

    FWIW, I think it’d be appropriate for the cost of all the mitigation (water transport, distribution, etc.) that took place while the municipal water was out of service be borne by the offending company, with serious financial penalties and jail time levied against the responsible parties.

    Then again, them that has usually gets away with the things they do to them that hasn’t.


    • I don’t know if the bankruptcy filing was preemptive to avoid any financial penalties, but I agree that the costs borne to the affected communities should be shouldered by the defendants.
      There’s obviously some culpability because the leak came from a facility under their control. I wouldn’t want to scare businesses from locating in communities that can really use the work, but I also don’t want to see people being taken advantage of.


      • Of course we don’t want to scare people from investing in communities. but… well, I’ll quote from that story RP referenced; if you can bear with the longish quote, from:

        The indictment says the company and the four executives failed to exercise reasonable care, failed to comply with the law, failed to follow their own internal operating procedures and failed to conform to common industry standards for safety and environmental compliance.

        The company failed to inspect the tank that leaked, failed to maintain the secondary containment around the tank, failed to adequately train its employees, did not have spill prevention supplies on hand, did not have a spill prevention plan and failed to develop pollution prevention plans as required by its permit, the indictment states.

        “Metal tanks don’t simply corrode overnight,” Goodwin said. “Containment walls don’t simply disintegrate in a matter of days. These things take time and those matters have to be dealt with.”

        That’s a whole lotta “fail.”


          • There’s a lot of fear among people in areas like that; even if it’s widely known that the employer is playing fast and loose with safety regulations, there’s a lot of resistance to turning them in. From what I can tell, turning in a miscreant employer in that region is kind of looked at like killing the goose that laid the golden egg. If you upset and run off an employer who’s brought a lot of good jobs, how long is it likely to be before another employer comes in to fill the gap? And what do the local folk do until then? I guess the consensus is ‘suck it up’ until someone dies or winds up in the hospital.

            The smart kids get the hell out as soon as they can. The ville where my dad grew up doesn’t even have a traffic light, a gas station or even a market any more. The last time I was there, the only businesses were a ratty pizza parlor and a bar being run out of some family’s front living room. The house was rather large and apparently their business license dated back to a time when folks routinely lived in the same building their businesses were in — so the bar was somehow grandfathered in under Ohio law. Anyway, NONE of my 20 first cousins still live there. They’ve all gotten out for places like Columbus, OH or Pittsburgh.


  2. It’s a sad fact that fines and liability are often considered “costs of doing business”. Not saying that’s what happened here but it does happen a lot, especially when big money is involved.

    I once worked at a place where they were considering doing something they shouldn’t (don’t think they ever did but I moved on shortly thereafter. so not sure) but it did come up in a discussion. When I voiced my opinion that what they were considering might be on shaky ground, I was told that they were an X million company and if they got caught, they’d just pay the fine and move on.

    This wasn’t something that was dangerous to the environment or any people (to be honest, I forget exactly what it was they were considering) but that’s an all too common mindset; go ahead and do it and ask for forgiveness later. You can always buy your way out if you have enough money and a buddy here and there.


    • ” I was told that they were an X million company and if they got caught, they’d just pay the fine and move on.”

      There’s a GA state Congressman (who shall remain nameless since I don’t fancy a defamation lawsuit) who used to be the VP of HR at one of my previous employers. He asked me one day if it would be cheaper to correct a certain problem or simply to ignore it and pay the fine if and when we got caught.

      “WHEN we get caught,” I said.

      “Well,” he said, “how are they going to know to catch us?”

      I said nothing, but looked straight into the VP’s eyes.

      He got the picture. I accepted an offer a couple of months later to start my consulting career and doubled my pay the first year. And yeah, I turned the company in after I left. I have no idea what the upshot from all that was, but I imagine it was costly.


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