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Opinion | Alabama lawmakers mostly silent on 3M revelations

Josh Moon

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Sunset on the Tennessee River

If someone was poisoning your neighbors, would you tell them? 

Would you speak up? Would you try to stop them? Would you use whatever authority you had to make them stop? Would you hold them accountable? Would you make them clean up their mess? Would you help the people who had been poisoned? 

If you answered yes to any of those questions, you’re apparently not qualified to be an elected official from north Alabama. 

For the past two weeks, reporters — mostly Chelsea Brentzel from WHNT in Huntsville — have been trying to get lawmakers from north Alabama to say something — ANYTHING! — about recent reports of 3M dumping banned pollutants in the Tennessee River for years. 

The response: crickets. Mostly. 

One person did respond critically. 

Sen. Doug Jones, a Democrat who has taken less than $1,000 from 3M in campaign donations, condemned the release of the chemicals and called for an investigation into what happened and why the public wasn’t better notified. 

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But Rep. Mo Brooks, Rep. Robert Aderholt, state Sen. Arthur Orr, state Rep. Terri Collins and several others all just can’t seem to find their voices. 

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That’s not to say that they’re too busy. 

Aderholt had time on Monday to tell people that marijuana as a prescription drug is junk science — for real. In 2019. And then he issued a press release on the 3M situation, which essentially said that there’s a 3M situation with water and stuff and some people are looking into it, probably.

Brooks was on a Huntsville radio show on Monday saying racist things. Which would be noteworthy if said about someone other than Brooks, who, at any given time, is mostly likely somewhere saying something racist. 

Orr managed some time since the 3M news broke to campaign for a friend. 

But not a peep from any of them about literal poison being pumped into the water their constituents drink, the water their children bathe in, the water in their hometowns. 

And of course they all took 3M money. 

Thousands of dollars. Aderholt took around $5,500 in the last two cycles. Brooks got nearly $6,000. Orr and Collins got $2,000 each last year. More 3M money went into federal and state PACs, which doled cash out to more politicians. 

And most of it came well after the chemical manufacturing giant had been credibly accused of dumping potentially cancer-causing chemicals into the river. 

These people took that 3M money even after the people in Morgan and Lawrence counties had stopped drinking their water because it was too polluted. Even after the first lawsuits had been filed.

And you know, even that would be OK if they were now — after learning that 3M acknowledged dumping the pollutants for years — standing up and speaking out. If they were now pledging federal-level help in making sure this mess gets cleaned up. If they had a plan of action at the state level to ensure that the Alabama Department of Environmental Management did its job. 

But they’re not. And they most likely won’t. 

Because they’re mostly OK with this. It is, after all, the result they expected when they talked about cutting “burdensome regulations” on businesses. 

This is what happens when you create a more business-friendly EPA and ADEM. It’s what happens when you elect politicians who believe a bigger bottom line solves all problems. 

Your rivers catch fire. Your air is unbreathable. Your dirt is toxic. 

And they don’t understand what the big deal is. 

How much don’t they understand? This much: Back during the campaign last year, Aderholt told U.S. News and World Report that his district’s opioid epidemic — which he deemed an “epidemic of depression” — would be solved by President Trump’s economic policies. 

Literally, he believed that people would be so happy to have money that their addiction and depression would go away. 

Because that’s what apparently drives conservative politicians now — an unabashed love of money. A sick belief that almost anything — any egregious act, any destruction — is justified if the bottom line is big enough. Or that the effects of such awful actions can be mitigated or even eliminated by a wad of cash. 

Even watching your neighbors be poisoned.

 

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