Tag Archives: EPA

Poisoned People and Poisoned Politics

highway-runoff-PROMO

A coho salmon carcass in a small coastal Oregon river. (Photo: Justin Bailie/Getty Images)

Little Rock    We’re right to have issues with the police, but bad or good, at least we know when we’re hurt or shot or when someone is murdered, there’s someplace to go, there’s a direction to point our fingers, there’s someone, somebody, somewhere that’s supposed to do something. When we’re poisoned by thoughtless, indifferent corporations and practices embedded in business models, the damage is as real and as permanent and the death as devastating when it comes, even if slower, yet the long timelines provide cover for corporations, Congress, and others to hide, obfuscate, dissemble, and downright lie to prevent having to take responsibility in the full knowledge that it is unlikely that they will be held accountable. Let’s not forget, we’re still hurting, our children may have their health and futures robbed, and our communities destroyed.

The problem with being poisoned is that we can’t see or hear the shot being fired, over and over, even though the impact will eventually explode in our bodies the same way, just more gradually. After 40 years Congress is finally, in collusion with the chemical industry, coming up with a new law on handling toxins because the last one they passed in 1976 was so sorry that it has only allowed the EPA to ban five chemicals in the entire period. The law was so damaged that an attempt to ban asbestos, which everyone knows is eventually deadly, from products was overturned by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals and 120,000 people still die from such products globally every year.

Look at lead, which we also know is deadly and a crippler of children particularly. Even with the calamity in Flint, Michigan, which has now also been found in Newark, Detroit, and other cities and their schools, has there been a rush to test? Heck, now! There’s been a rush to posture. Local 100 has tried to get the Houston and Dallas school districts to test for lead, and even found authorization in federal funds that would pay for them to do so, but, ridiculously, we’re gathering soil samples ourselves and depending on a national expert at Xavier University in New Orleans to test them with the help of board members of the Lead Safe America Foundation. One water district after another has sent out letters to their customers assuring them the water has been tested and it’s all good, without telling them about the plethora of lead pipes between the drain and the street. There are city-based ordinances forbidding dry sanding of paint because of the lead and other particulate matter disbursed into the soil, neighbors’ yards, and air, but please let me know of a city that actually enforces this at all.

Now Congress has come to a bipartisan compromise, so whenever we hear that we’re waiting for another shoe to fall, because it’s not like that are coming to any true religion of putting people and their health ahead of companies and their lobbyists. Sure enough, they are partially doing something here in order to preempt some states, like California, that have stiffer laws and enforcement mechanisms, to have to abide by the federal protocols on chemicals that will be developed through this bill. There are waivers on anything done before passage and waivers available after passage which give hope that a failure to receive a tough waiver might be exposed. On the other hand many of us, millions of us, live in “red” states or places like Louisiana and it’s chemical plants that have earned the nickname of “cancer alley” along the Mississippi River, so in such states where we have had little or no hope of effective regulation and enforcement on the state level, finally putting some teeth in EPA’s mouth might give us hope for the future.

Of course on the same day we read the news with a little hope here on this front, we also read about Monsanto being sued for putting PCBs in Oregon rivers for 40 years when they were the sole manufacturer of that deadly concoction. We also read about the NFL giving millions to supposedly fund research into the connection between hard hitting and brain damage to the players, but really only doing so in order to cover up the damage. We also read about the struggle to get ExxonMobil to own up to its impact and knowledge of climate change and the destruction of life as we know it.

It takes a very active imagination to feel secure in the news that we’ve learned our lesson about corporate practice, chemical poisoning, and the need for government accountability.

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

National Crisis with Local Pain: Rebuilding Water and Sewer Infrastructure

Morro Bay / Los Osos area

Los Osos and Morro Bay       There may not be too many issues more complex, expensive, or unpleasant to discuss than the emerging national crisis involving the mixing of our drinking water and our sewage wastewater, the Environmental Protection Agency’s mandate to protect against pollution, and the enormous expense that such infrastructure rebuilding would attempt to assess working families in communities large and small across the country.  Los Osos and the beautiful Morro Bay area of the central coast of California is too small, too far west, and too off anyone’s radar to be ground zero for the national calamity, but their forty year struggle to come to terms with these issues put me on Highway 101 South until I arrived here in the shadow of the “rock” for the first time since I camped here for several days in 1968.

I was lured to Los Osos by Al Barrow and his one-man band Low Income Housing Coalition which has been his effort to “give back” over these several decades in the community where he has successfully built a low footprint, sustainable, and high quality life on few resources.  All afternoon Al introduced me to veterans of this long and convoluted struggle to come to grips with the current septic tank system in 60% of the unincorporated Los Osos community and persistently worked with me to understand the myriad issues involved in San Luis Obispo’s efforts to move forward to build a $200 million gravity based sewer and drainage system, currently financed by a Congressional earmark that would be repaid over 20 years at a dear price of $200 or more per month by the largely working and fixed income community and its significant tenant population.

Al Barrow and Bob Robertson, sparkplugs of the organizing

I was the guest speaker for a dozen hardy veterans and residents of these neighboring communities who sat on a beautiful afternoon on the upper slope of a swale of sorts while I spoke up the hill.  This was a campaign where there were few instances where people couldn’t cite having “been there, done that,” from successful initiative petitions, recall elections, creations of special sewer districts, lawsuits, and so forth.  Many in the meeting were not almost expert level hydrologists, engineers, and geologists having logged in months of study on environmental statements and reams of documents.  Nonetheless, as much as many hated to admit it, they were at the end of the road.  The sewer or something very much like it was coming and the window for either work or whining was closing.

In trying to find some consensus across this contentious, divided community, the issue increasingly seemed to resolve around equity and affordability.  How to shape a plan that would involve future developers – stopped for decades from new construction of more than 1500 undeveloped lots because no water permits could be issued – and the 40% of the community benefiting but exempted for various reasons to participate at some level in the cost and how to move the cost down below $100 per month so there was some chance that people would be able to pay seemed to be the most fertile places to look for consensus.

This is an issue now facing nearly a 1000 communities across the United States.  In this era of neoliberalism the government is shifting all of the costs for what used to be massive federal and state infrastructure improvements onto the citizens, and in this and many other communities there is no way to foot the bill.  There is a coalition and a campaign waiting to be built around these issues, and I’m sure I’m not alone in trying to wrap my mind and arms around the issues and how to breakthrough, but it’s a mountain to climb.

Finding a way to unite a community so long divided in these fights will be a struggle.   Many of my new friends in Los Osos had been embedded in one camp or another for so many years that it was easy to forget that to “win” here would not be a matter of who was “right” anymore, but who could muster a majority around some plan or program.

I got a crash course on the central coast which will keep my mind spinning on the long drive back to San Francisco and the longer flight home.

speaking at the tennis courts about the water and sewer issues of Los Osos

Mark Webber plays jazz guitar to start the discussion

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail