OPINION-Throwing The Baby Out With The Bath Water – By Robert Volpe

I find it interesting and deeply disturbing that many Americas have forsaken reason and replaced it with anger and paranoid delusion. From anti-vaccers, to birthers, to crackpot conspiracy theories about everything from chemtrails to lizard people, we’ve become a society of solutions looking for a problem.

The recent toxic water spill in the Animas River near Silverton is a perfect example. I’ve been reading a lot of the reaction about the spill from as many sources as I can find on the internet. Scientific data on the consequences of the spill is hard to find since it takes time to develop and draw conclusions. There are some articles that contain references based on historical content and geologic explanations as to how the spill occurred, however, opinion, conjecture and hate filled rhetoric for the EPA has dominated the conversation.

There is no doubt the situation down there is an epic fail by the EPA, but the outcry for eliminating the EPA is neither rational nor logical.

I’m old enough to remember when the Cuyahoga River in Ohio burst into flames in 1969, due to contamination by unregulated industrial discharges. That incident was the impetus that sparked the nation into creating the EPA in 1970 and in 1972 the Clean Water Act.

On the Cuyahoga, oxygen levels are up; pollution and bacteria levels are down.  The number of fish species has nearly doubled.  Warehouses that lined the portion of the Cuyahoga River adjacent to Lake Erie have been replaced by trendy shops, restaurants, and an active harbor.  Now, the fire on the Cuyahoga River is no longer remembered only as an environmental nightmare, but as a seminal event in the reclamation and protection of our environment. Much of the industry that both made Cleveland rich and caused its river to burn may never be coming back, but Clevelanders are meeting this challenge by reshaping their city to reflect its current realities.

Sure factories shut down, people lost their jobs. At the time it was an economic disaster. Had the industries that caused those environmental problems taken responsible actions to control their toxic waste they would still be pumping out their products today.

I remember a town called Love Canal in upstate New York. It was supposed to be a dream community but the dream became a nightmare for the residents of the 100 homes and school that were built on top of an unregulated toxic waste dump site.

It was 1978. It had been 25 years since the Hooker Chemical company stopped dumping 82 different compounds, 11 of them suspected carcinogens into the abandoned canal.  After a series of storms dumped a tremendous amount of rain on the area the chemicals began percolating upward through the soil. Rotting drum containers leached their contents into the backyards and basements. Trees and gardens were turning black and dying. Puddles of noxious substances were everywhere. Children returned from play with burns on their hands and faces. Residents exposed to the toxic soup developed higher than normal cancer rates and a high rate of birth defects and miscarriages of pregnant women.

After Love Canal the EPA proposed a system to ensure that the more than 35 million tons of hazardous wastes produced in the U.S. each year, including most chemical wastes, are disposed of safely. Hazardous wastes are to be controlled from point of generation to their ultimate disposal, and dangerous practices now resulting in serious threats to health and environment will not be allowed.

Had the Hooker Chemical company taken steps to responsibly dispose of their waste instead of dumping it in the most convenient place, Love Canal would not have happened.

Are you beginning to see a pattern here?

Industry cannot be trusted to take public health and the environment into consideration without regulation.

Now I know some will argue that the EPA has grown too large and is now imposing its draconian authority on individual citizens as harshly as it has industry.

We are a society. Society by definition is; “an aggregate of people living in a more or less ORDERED community.” Without order there is chaos. Anarchy. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want someone building a house next to mine with an open sewer pipe draining into my yard.

Individuals who dispose of toxic waste down their drain or drain there car’s oil on the ground are just as culpable of threatening the environment as the industries that set the Cuyahoga River on fire.  Just on a smaller scale. Ranches and farms that discharge nitrogen laden fertilizer and animal waste into small streams are just as culpable as the Hooker Chemical company that poisoned Love Canal. It’s just a matter of scale.

The war cry from some to eliminate the EPA are short sighted and conveniently forget we have a richer and safer country to live in thanks to the efforts of the EPA. They scream and stomp their feet about freedom and personal responsibility, but trust in those who would willingly exploit and poison the environment at the expense of present and future generations of Americans to police themselves.

In Silverton, the residents dismissed an opportunity to have the area designated as a Superfund Cleanup site. This designation would have built a water treatment plant to filter water entering the Cement Creek drainage and ultimately the Animas River. That treatment plant would have prevented the spill and given new live to the river. Fear and mistrust caused that spill. Fear that was short sighted and paranoid. Now they face decades of negative perception of the town and negative impact to their economy that could have been avoided.

Durango residents were similarly faced with the Superfund designation in the 1990’s to clean up radioactive uranium tailings left by The American Smelter that processed uranium. Again it was industry that took the money and ran, leaving tax payers to deal with the consequences of irresponsible owners. Durango chose wisely.

Since the creation of the EPA countless rivers and streams have been restored and now support aquatic life, clean drinking water and improved air quality throughout the country.

The drumbeat to eliminate the EPA is being pounded by industry bent on making a profit the cheapest way they can without regard to the consequences to society. Remember, society is base on order. They employ fear and misinformation to stir up people’s emotions. Fear of losing jobs, fear of losing industrial strength and the tax base. They are glued to the past and ignore the future. They encourage states to refuse to comply with EPA regulations.

Industry is not looking out for the interests of society. Sure they provide jobs. Jobs are important of course. There’s no denying that, but when an employer refuses to take into account the impact they are having on society as a whole, they are behaving irresponsibly to society. In the long run, society winds up footing the bill for industrial irresponsibility. Those hard earned dollars you make working for a company that pollutes the environment will ultimately be spent cleaning up their mess. Fact is, your hard earned dollars are now paying the price for irresponsible industrial behavior of the past. Of course you’re angry about it, but understand this: the EPA didn’t create the mess, irresponsible industry did. Direct your anger to the source. Don’t kill the messenger because you don’t like the message.  Unless industry, and yes, individuals are forced to comply with the basic tenets of society they will continue to flaunt the environment for profit and convenience and future generations will be paying the price.

Finally, for those whose memories are as short as the list of scientists who don’t believe in man made climate change, I give you a list of EPA achievements over the last 45 years that was compiled by Scientific American magazine:

1.      banning the widespread use of the pesticide DDT, which was decimating bald eagles and other birds and threatening public health.

2.      achieving significant reductions in sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions that were polluting water sources via acid rain.

3.      changing public perceptions of waste, leading to innovations that make use of waste for energy creation and making new products; getting lead out of gasoline.

4.      classifying secondhand smoke as a known cause of cancer, leading to smoking bans in indoor public places.

5.      establishing stringent emission standards for pollutants emitted by cars and trucks

6.       regulating toxic chemicals and encouraging the development of more benign chemicals

7.      establishing a national commitment to restore and maintain the safety of fresh water, via the Clean Water Act; promoting equitable environmental protection for minority and low-income citizens; and increasing public information and communities’ “right to know” what chemicals and/or pollutants they may be exposed to in their daily lives.