Hundreds of thousands of West Virginians have been without access to clean tap water for five days now, following a chemical spill in the Elk River. The conservative group Americans For Prosperity is asking its supporters to help out, and that effort has drawn skepticism from at least one environmental group.
AFP President Tim Phillips sent an email message to supporters on Sunday asking them to send supplies such as water, baby wipes and hand sanitizer to Charleston, or to link up with others in their area to make relief kits:
There are thousands of suffering families, young mothers, and elderly folks who need your help. Fortunately, Americans have a great history of coming together during times of emergency to help those in need. This is one of those times. AFP Foundation, our sister organization, has already sent additional staff loaded with clean water and supplies into West Virginia to help with relief efforts, and hope you'll help us bring aid to those in need.
While the region certainly needs help and supplies, some see the effort as a bit disingenuous, given AFP's efforts to fight regulations in the name of "a limited government and free markets." The group is backed by David and Charles Koch, billionaires who make the bulk of their money from chemicals and fossil fuels. The Kochs have led efforts to block new safety rules for chemical facilities. (Freedom Industries, the company that owns the tank that leaked the chemical, is not owned by Koch Industries.)
Mary Anne Hitt, director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign, told HuffPost, "As someone who lives in West Virginia, this feels like a slap in the face. These are the same fossil fuel billionaires who've been fighting relentlessly to end protections from the kind of contamination we're seeing in the Elk River, and now they're scrambling to cover their tails while failing to even acknowledge the cause of this disaster. It's a blatant abdication of responsibility at a time when the hundreds of thousands of families affected here in West Virginia deserve answers and solutions that will prevent crises like this from ever happening again."
Americans for Prosperity had not responded to a request for comment on the role of regulations or oversight in the West Virginia spill at press time.
Meanwhile, local environmental advocates say that the spill was "predictable," given the lax oversight of industry in the state. Reports over the weekend indicated that state environmental officials had not inspected the Freedom Industries site where the chemicals were stored in more than 20 years. And even though state and county officials knew about the chemicals, they had failed to put an emergency response plan in place.