Pollution: Remediation and Rebirth, But At What Cost?


DW Dalrymple

DW is a Proud West Virginian from the top of the middle finger, a former political hack/public servant and alleged rock-n-roll savant. Forever a student of the School of Life. You can find him on Twitter @BIG_DWD

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16 Responses

  1. Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

    There is an appeal to having the noisy, smelly, polluting plants gone, but we can’t pretend they don’t still exist, that they simply haven’t been shipped to China and other countries where people are still willing to trade pollution for a chance at prosperity.Report

    • Avatar DW Dalrymple in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

      Exactly right OG. Some of the environmental controls put in place to clean up industry in America helped to destroy it. It was by no means the only factor, not even a main factor but it is definitely part of the equation. Nations like China, India; they chose to pollute with reckless abandon. They can undercut American industry due in part to the fact that they spend little if any money on pollution control along with being heavily subsidized by their governments. Their industry today when it comes to the environment is on par with America pre-EPA (1970).

      About 40 min from where I’m sitting is arguably the largest industrial development to occur in decades, a cracker plant. The site is being constructed on 386 acres of redeveloped heavy industrial property. It’s a massive build that is sure to provide jobs and tax revenue that will grow the economy beyond the site. I am sure it will have the most cutting-edge pollution controls once it’s complete.

      No way it will be a “zero emission” facility though. It is the balance that must be accepted to operate heavy industry and manufacture products that consumers demand. Innovation, American ingenuity and government regulation can make it as safe and environmentally friendly as possible.

      Thanks for reading…Report

      • Avatar George Turner in reply to DW Dalrymple says:

        When you said “cracker plant” I was thinking “Keebler, Zest, or Premium?” and wondering what kind of pollution a bakery would emit.Report

      • Avatar J_A in reply to DW Dalrymple says:

        The Chinese, too, have discovered that the environment’s capability to absorb unlimited pollution is very limited. Calculations show over 15% of non violent/accidental deaths have pollution as a cause or contributing factor (how much it was in WV, in the halcyon days of steel, I wonder).

        So now China is the world’s leader in wind and solar power generation. In 2018 China had 32% of the world’s installed photovoltaic generation, serving 3.3% of their demand (EU: 70% and 4.3%, USA: 11% and 2.3%, respectively). 45% of the world’s PV power 2018 additions happened in China. China leads also the world in installed wind power, with 36% of the world’s capacity (EU: 32%, USA: 16%).

        2018 India, btw, is the 5th, and 4th country in the world in installed solar and wind capacity (6% of the world’s installed capacity in both counts), and the second, after China in installing new solar generation in 2018 (4th for wind, after China, USA, and Germany).

        About 15 years ago China, also, implanted significant environmental limitations on any new coal plant to be built after that date. As an anecdote from another part of the world, in the early 2000s Turkey forbade coal burning for domestic heating in any city that had natural gas services (I.e, in most large and midsized cities).

        Environmental concerns is not just for western liberals anymore.Report

        • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to J_A says:

          I wonder, though, why China, etc. are still cheaper for steel? Subsidies? Or is it close to parity with what it would cost here, but we no longer have the installed capacity to produce steel, because we got rid of the plants instead of upgrading them?Report

          • Avatar J_A in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

            It’s a combination of several things: subsidies, and new technology smelters both playing significant parts. A third element is that 86% (2014 figures) of steel production comes from recycling scrap metal, which has a much lower environmental impact compared to new steel.

            As a segue, most new smelters anywhere in the planet are fully automated. The smelters’ jobs, like the miners’, would be gone by now, clean air or not.Report

          • Avatar DW Dalrymple in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

            There are instances of government subsidies for decades, especially China. The country where they had to cancel some of the Olympic Games due to severe air pollution. China also has the worlds largest mining industry. They account for 40% of the worlds coal output and 80% of deaths due to mining around the world every year. India is second only to China when it comes to world steel production and the government is highly involved through low taxation and detrimental import practices to shore the industry. India is home to 13 out of the worlds 20 cities with the highest annual levels of air pollution. That pollution contributes to the premature deaths of 2 million Indians a year. It ranks at the bottom of air quality lists every year. On another note, we flattened Europe and Japan during WWII. Helped them rebuild their steel mills with modern technology while our mills just re-tooled and went back to making steel instead of howitzer shells. American mills didn’t keep the pace when it came to modernization. Eventually Japan ate our lunch. Now large American corporations adopt Japanese management practices to operate. 5-S of Lean Six Sigma. I’ve seen attempts of implementation a few times in my career in manufacturing. The death of American manufacturing occurred slowly. Bled out from a thousand cuts. Many of those wounds were self-imposed, some are due to the “New World Order” started under the first Bush administration. There are not enough fingers to point the blame….Report

            • Avatar George Turner in reply to DW Dalrymple says:

              I’ve read that American steel vs. post-war European steel was a bit like Ford vs Nissan in the 1970’s and 80’s. The Americans were smug because they were the steel kings, unworried that the newer technology and methods used elsewhere, which had lower total output, was more efficient. The result was a disaster that took a while to unfold.

              Chinese production figures, like all things communist, should be taken with a grain of salt. A few years ago there was a lot of worry that their banks would collapse because so many loans were backed by collateral that didn’t exist, especially empty warehouses than on paper were full of rolled steel.Report

  2. Avatar J_A says:

    The cost of that clean air today is thousands of jobs, livelihoods gone forever.

    I’m sorry, but this sentence really grated me. You make it sound like a new Kheops or Louis XIV decided that HE wanted clean air the the howling of coyotes to enliven HIS evenings, no matter how many slave’s or peasants lives would be destroyed to please HIM.

    The reality is much more different. Our planet, our environment, has a finite capability to absorb the pollutants those factories, no, that way of life, produced. The ozone hole was real, and was a real threat. SOx produces acid rain, that would slowly kill vegetation hundreds of miles away. More accurately you could have written : “The cost of those thousands of jobs, livelihoods, was life-sustaining air, almost (fortunately, for now) gone forever.”

    E. T. Weir never planned to pay the full costs that steel making involved. Bumping the slush in the river when it was too much in the way was his solution. He never wondered what happened to people that drank that water. Peasants should not stand in the way of great men’s dreams. You can ask Louis XIV about it.Report

    • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to J_A says:

      To be fair, none of the industrial titans of the day ever planned to pay that cost. And the titans today would, for the most part, avoid paying that cost if they thought they could get away with it (because sometimes they still try to get away with it).

      We don’t appear to have a good way to enforce the costs of those externalities onto polluters.Report

  3. Avatar DW Dalrymple says:

    I concur OG..Report

  4. Avatar Michael Cain says:

    So, what I’m interested in is why Weirton was reduced to “mere” finishing, but the steel mill down the road from me was able to go in a completely different direction. Colorado Fuel & Iron was in the steel business well before Weirton and went through a similar sort of history. Peak employment around 15,000 people. Added a BOF about the same time Weirton did.

    Today, as EVRAZ Rocky Mountain Steel, they produce over a million tons of relatively high-value-added steel products a year. Products in over 300 alloys and/or treatments. There’s also on-site R&D for some of their major specialty products. I recall reading some of the product material for railroad rails — who knew just how much technology goes into something so simple-looking? To one of J_A’s points above, the million tons of input to the plant are all recycled steel.

    Is it as simple as better luck in who acquired them? Or are there more complicated things going on?Report

      • Avatar George Turner in reply to DW Dalrymple says:

        And in some cases the difference is just down to common decisions that the businesses made long ago, such as you might find with IBM vs. Dell or GM vs. Toyota. Wages and benefits, total pension liabilities and payments, number of retirees, outstanding debts, age of capital stock, lean management, six-sigma manufacturing, openness to innovation, staying nimble instead of relying on being a leviathan (that becomes a dinosaur). Often our big industrial giants grew complacent and inefficient because they faced no serious competition, and when that competition finally arrived they were unequal to the task of meeting it, slowly losing market share until their backs were against the wall.Report

  5. Avatar DW Dalrymple says:

    Michael, take some time to read this piece by a young writer Ella Jennings, a former Weirton resident and WVU grad. It explains a lot. https://www.wvpublic.org/post/what-happened-weirton-part-1-living-aftermath#stream/0

    Let me know what you think…Report