If there is one community that understands what it means to have local drinking water contaminated, it’s Charleston, West Virginia.

In January of this year, a chemical leak from an above ground storage tank allowing a toxic chemical into the Elk River. Approximately 300,000 citizens lost their clean drinking water.  Small businesses in 9 counties lost $61 million in just a few weeks from closures and the drop in commerce.

The below opinion editorial that ran in the Charleston (WV) Gazette today was written by Jeni Burns, a small business owner in Charleston. I began working with Jeni and Nancy Ward shortly after the Elk River spill offering them guidance and support in their efforts to start the West Virginia Sustainable Business Council.

With the assistance of the American Sustainable Business Council (I serve as co-chair of the ASBC), small businesses in West Virginia now have their own voice to express concern about chemical contamination threats, the need for clean water and growing a sustainable economy.

Jeni’s comments in this piece are just as applicable for South Carolina. Our Attorney General has also weighed in to oppose the Environmental Protection Agency’s clarification of what waters fall under the protection of the Clean Water Act.  Earlier this year, the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce came out in support of the EPA’s efforts.

We take clean drinking water for granted until we don’t have it.  Just ask the people in Charleston, WV.


The Charleston Gazette
October 19, 2014

Everybody I know wants clean drinking water

By Jeni Burns

Ten out of 10 people that I randomly surveyed on Charleston’s West Side said they want clean drinking water no matter what.

Individuals surveyed also understand that rainwater goes into our creeks, streams and groundwater and can eventually end up in our drinking water. Only three of 10 individuals surveyed have jobs in the scientific field.

Oct. 18 was the 42nd anniversary of the Clean Water Act. It comes a little over a week after Attorney General Patrick Morrisey announced that he and a small cadre of Attorneys General were intervening to attack attempts by the EPA to strengthen the Clean Water Act.

Morrisey’s stand works to threaten a vital tool that will keep public water safe for all West Virginians, our visitors and residents downstream from West Virginia’s creeks, streams and groundwater.

It has been less than a year since 300,000 West Virginia American Water customers lost their clean drinking water. Those of us around here understand, all too well, what the loss of clean water means to our families, our businesses and our workforce.

At issue is a technical definition of which waterways are regulated under the Clean Water Act. Since passage of the Act in 1972, the seasonal rain-dependent, streams that are the headwaters of West Virginia’s drinking water have been protected.

Several years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers had to show scientific evidence that water flows downhill in order to protect rain dependent headwater streams.

EPA and the Army Corps have gone through exhaustive studies and peer reviews to prove what are common knowledge around here: Rain and snow that fall on the mountains of West Virginia eventually end up in our drinking water by way of the Elk, Kanawha, Ohio, Cheat and other rivers and wells.

Unfortunately for West Virginians, our Attorney General vows to fight EPA rules that would further protect our water. Here is a quote from his press release:

“Our Office will work to defend West Virginia from EPA overreach. Additionally, we will always do our best to represent the interests of all the citizens in our 55 counties. Regardless of political affiliation, economic background, or where you call home our Office will do everything we can to protect you from burdensome regulations.”

Respectfully, not all regulations are burdensome. What is burdensome is having to close your business because your water is contaminated and you can no longer use it.

I bet if he surveyed those farmers, ranchers and landowners he allegedly defends in his press release, they would tell him that their industries are dependent on clean water for the vegetables and livestock they produce. I’d bet money that the good people of West Virginia, who work the earth, want clean drinking water for their families, livestock and their communities.

Morrisey states “The proposed rules will have little to no benefits to farmers, ranchers, landowners, and agriculture as a whole, but will impose endless paperwork and bureaucratic obstacles on farmers.”

I own a catering company. I have to fill out endless paperwork and I have to open my doors to all kinds of inspectors who are charged with the task of making sure I’m doing everything I’m supposed to do to keep the community safe.

Those inspectors are my second set of eyes. The rules my industry lives by make sure that my community stays healthy.

I don’t want to poison anyone. So what if I have to do a little extra paperwork?

Patrick, you haven’t lived in my fine state very long, and by your statement, you really don’t know what’s in the best interest of our farmers, ranchers, landowners and citizens.

Clean drinking water, no matter what, is something I think everyone wants. It is time that we West Virginians stand up and start defending ourselves from industry’s overreaching political puppets like Patrick Morrisey and elected officials who encourage business practices and policies that potentially put their community members at risk.

It’s time that business leaders speak up and demand policies that encourage sustainable economic growth in our communities.

Patrick, my drinking water, your drinking water, the drinking water for the entire state and around the country needs to be clean in order for our state to economically thrive. So what if that takes a little extra paperwork.

Jeni Burns is the owner of Ms. Groovy’s Gourmet Catering and the co-founder of the WV Sustainable Business Council. She can be contacted at wvsustainablebi@gmail.com.


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