In Tomblin’s recent State-of-the-State speech, he touted the chemical industry, saying it was among those that grew substantially over the last year.
The spill that tainted the water supply involved a chemical used in coal processing. But it didn’t involve a coal mine — and that’s a point state officials are trying to convey to the public.
When asked if the emergency is one of the risks of being a state that relies heavily on the coal industry, Tomblin quickly responded: “This was not a coal company incident, this was a chemical company incident.”
The coal industry, too, was saying they should not bear the blame in this case.
“This is a chemical spill accident. It just so happens that the chemical has some applications to the coal industry, just that fact alone shouldn’t cause people to point fingers at the coal industry,” said Jason Bostic, vice president of the West Virginia Coal Association.
Bostic said the coal industry is very carefully regulated by the state Department of Environmental Protection and several federal agencies that ensure it is safe from the very first step in opening a mine to ongoing operations.
“The environmental risk that’s associated with coal mining, we feel it’s well regulated,” Bostic said.
There’s no doubt the coal and chemical industries are a hugely important part of the state’s economy. Even as he lamented the loss of business caused by the spill, Matt Ballard, president of the Charleston Area Alliance, the state’s largest regional chamber of commerce, talked about the importance of chemical companies in the Kanawha Valley, which includes the capital.
“The chemical industry, that’s what started the valley,” Ballard said. “We’ve got a long history of a really good safety record, but with any business ... there’s always a risk.”