The recent industrial disaster in West Virginia, which saw the leakage of vast quantities of toxic chemicals into the river and drinking water supplies, prompted Grant Mincy of East Tennessee to reflect on the enclosure of countless commons in the Appalachia region of the US. His piece in Counterpunch, “Reclaiming the Commons in Appalachia,” caught my eye because it pointed to the extreme inequalities, suffering and dispossession that have occurred in Appalachia as corporate control has gotten more concentrated. A sudden – the huge spill of chemicals into the river – then shines a bright spotlight on the situation.
Mincy notes how the “extractive resource industry” – chiefly coal companies – have used their property rights and political influence to enclose the commons of Appalachia:
The use of eminent domain and compulsory pooling has robbed communities of their cultural and natural heritage. Capital is the authority of the Appalachian coalfields, and has created systemic poverty and mono economies. Instead of prosperity in the commons, the mechanism of authority has spawned tragedy.
Property is theft in Appalachia. The current system is concerned with the well-being of the politically connected corporati instead of the common good – Appalachian communities. This system exists because legal privilege is granted to industry. The development of this socio-economic order is political, as opposed to free and participatory. The current authority in the coalfields, the corporate state, is illegitimate. It is far past time we transition to society free of it.