Saturday, August 9, 2014

Rural others "subsist on [urban] trash"

That was a line from Joe Williams's review of the just released documentary Rich Hill, which I featured yesterday here.  I  have been pondering film critic Williams's invocation of the tension between rural and urban--the "us vs. them" phenomenon across the rural-urban axis, as in his review's opening line:
Exit the interstate to venture across the moonscape of rural America, and you may glimpse a breed of alien that looks vaguely human but subsists on our trash.
This strikes me as a powerful--and rare--admission from an urbanite (Williams writes for the St. Lois Post-Dispatch, so I assume he dwells in that city's urban milieu, and he does use the pronoun "our").  He is essentially stating: "We urbanites are using you ruralites."

Of course, rural America subsists on the scraps from metropolitan America's table in more ways than one … think the rural prison building boom, toxic waste disposal, etc.  See related posts herehere, and here and a Call for Papers about "Rural as a Dimension of Environmental Justice" here).

Reminds me, too, of this week's story out of Loving County, Texas, population 95.  That county's leaders are seeking to bring all of our nation's nuclear waste there as a way of bolstering the local economy.  Here's the lede for Matthew Wald's story, headlined "County of 95 Sees Opportunity in Toxic Waste":
Loving County is big, dry and stretches for miles, and is the perfect place, local officials say, to store high-level radioactive waste. 
Officials here hope to entice the federal government — with $28 billion to spend on the disposal of high-level radioactive waste — into considering the possibility. 
The federal government canceled it lag to store the waste at Nevada's Yucca Mountain site.  Wald quotes Skeet Jones, Loving County judge (chief elected official):
With the money that this would generate for the county, we might even be able to pay the taxpayers back. We could build some roads. We could bring in some more water. We could have a town that’s incorporated, have a city council, maybe even start a school. … Maybe even a Walmart.
Loving County's school was closed years ago, and the few young people there are sent to nearby Winkler County's schools by bus.  According to a 2006 New York Times story about Loving County being the nation's "emptiest place," a plaque on the county courthouse declares:
Mentone [the county seat] has no water system (water is hauled in) nor does it have a bank, doctor, hospital, newspaper, lawyer, civic club or cemetery.
A quick search on for this August 2014 story about Loving County also brought up a 1998 story, which labeled Loving County and Mentone the nation's richest place because it had the highest per capita income in the nation.  Loving County's affluence is attributable to oil and mineral wealth:  
360 producing gas and oil wells and 18 more being drilled [as of 1998], creating an enviable problem for the county — forcing it to keep lowering its tax rate.
Indeed, theres more good economic news about Loving County.  This 2012 story indicated it has the lowest income inequality in the nation, and I note that the county's poverty rate is a low 10.6%.

In the sense that Loving County is affluent, it is odd that the county is willing to make its populace vulnerable by seeking the nation's nuclear waste.  The more typical environmental (in)justice story is the purveyor of a negative externality seeking out of a powerless and poor rural place on which to dump the externality (see links above).

Sounds to me like the affluent Loving County residents simply don't want to pay the higher taxes that would help provide the infrastructure the county needs.

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