CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- "...it is your decision," is what I believe the governor said about drinking the water. This statement assumes that:1. You have an alternative water source.2. You have discretion.Discretion is the freedom to decide, or the authority to decide. On the surface, we all the have the freedom to decide whatever we want. But it is a little more complicated than that, right? I have the freedom to decide to shoot myself in the foot with a nail gun. It is the authority, or knowledge, to decide that actually affords us discretion. I know it would be a bad idea to nail myself to the floor. Thus, I have the authority to decide whether or not I should nail myself to the floor. In that scenario I can employ discretion.
I cannot even pronounce the name of the chemical spilled into our water supply, and when I try to read about it I get lost fast. My discretion says "Don't drink the water," but that conclusion is based on ignorance, not knowledge or authority. And, I have the means to find and gather safer water. I am in a socio-economic stratum that allows me some discretion. Not all of the 300,000 people affected by the chemical spill have the means to not drink the water.My decision to not drink the water is not based on my authority as a chemist. Sadly, my decision to not drink the water is based entirely on my inability to trust the authorities. I want my state government officials to stand on stage and say, "We will get to the bottom of this. And don't touch the water until we do."Instead, the state government is acquiescing. Again. The governor seems to be saying, "Look, that was last week. Last week I was real concerned about all this. I mean, like totally up in it, you know? But this week, well, use your discretion."Sen. Manchin and Gov. Tomblin don't want to blame anyone -- certainly not anyone who makes large contributions to their campaigns. Rep. Capito is holding fast to the statement that the EPA is overreaching.Sen. Manchin said, "I don't know where else you want the chemicals to be produced. Another country? People say, 'Not in my backyard.' But in West Virginia, we're willing to do the heavy lifting."I'm tired of the heavy lifting. I want the EPA here now. I want these companies so well regulated that it costs them more to operate in our state's boarders than it costs them in contributions to our politicians.This is the same government that helped bring you mountain top removal, lacked oversight during the Hawk's Nest Tunnel disaster, could have a done better job inspecting the Upper Big Branch mine, and produced the Battle of Blair Mountain. My discretion tells me that while the governor is no longer concerned about my water supply, the state will find someway to give Freedom Industries a tax break, and other companies incentives to build more storage units along our water ways. "Look, big companies, do what you want. Our people have suffered before. They have discretion."This reminds me of Hurricane Katrina. When people were stuck and stranded in the storm and floods, when they were starving and without water, folks in the media and in the government said, "Well, we told them to get out of there." Not all of those people who stayed in New Orleans stayed because they lacked discretion. Some of those people stayed because they did not have the means to escape the storm. They were stuck the same way I would have been if the government had announced, "A huge meteor is headed toward the Earth. Evacuate to the nearest moon." I would not have had the means to get to the moon despite my discretion.What needs to happen here is that the governor needs to have the discretion to use his authority to put the people of West Virginia in front of the corporations in West Virginia.Sometimes, when my kids are doing something I have told them a thousand times not to do, something about which I have explained the repercussions and consequences a thousand times ... Instead of going through it all over again I simply look at them and say, "Don't do that. Blah, blah, blah and what I always say." It isn't very effective, but hey, it looks like I learned it from the government.Lepp, of Charleston, is an author and professional storyteller.