Monday, February 16, 2015

How clean is clean?

Members of the Minnesota Legislature, on both the Republican and the Iron Range sides of the aisle, say they want cost-effective, clean environment that doesn't hinder business or cost jobs. So let's think about how that would work. Industry uses global sources for raw materials. Industry supports the World Trade Organization. According to Global Exchange, "The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and certain agreements of the World Trade Organization (WTO) were written to prioritize rights for corporations over protections for our shared environment." So, business is a major influencer of environmental regulation at the state and international scale. Where I come from, that's known as taking several bites at the apple. Full disclosure, I used to represent the Metro Council in wastewater discharge permit hearings. I'd find it frustrating to work out permit compliance details at the state level only then to have the federal Environmental Protection Agency insist that even more stringent requirements, costing more money, were needed to protect the quality of the Minnesota, Mississippi and St. Croix Rivers. The state and federal regulators were taking two bites at the apple. I understand some of the frustrations business representatives and legislators experience. I also learned to look at the other side of the coin.

Mississippi River in Minneapolis
Mississippi River in Minneapolis
Photo by J. Harrington

Few legislators I've met are willing to say, as an example, they only want the air to be clean enough so that a specific number of thousands, or millions, of people will suffer from asthma attacks, and only a specific number of hundreds, or thousands, will die from those attacks. If we're going to have cost effective solutions, we need clear goals. How many will we allow to get sick  and what percentage of the sick will be allowed to die cost-effectively to save a few dollars business profit and increase shareholders' distributions, and, for others, political donations. Is that a political decision? If not, it's a regulatory decision involving the kind of balancing act staff and scientists of regulatory agencies have to perform when they propose an environmental standard. It hasn't been 23 years since a Pollution Control Agency representative had to justify it's proposed actions to the public, including the legislature. It has been that long since some US Steel facilities in Minnesota had valid environmental permits.

western Wisconsin's bridge to economic growth
western Wisconsin's bridge to economic growth
Photo by J. Harrington

MinnPost notes that the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency [MPCA] was established prior to the creation of a federal Environmental Protection Agency. As true as that may be, federal delegation establishes who's calling the shots. Perhaps some Minnesota legislators would want to consider whether Minnesota businesses would fare better with a local Citizens Board (like we have with the MPCA Board) having primary oversight or dealing directly with EPA Region V staff in Chicago. The Federal government used to have a very limited role in water pollution control. That changed as a number of states started to win a race to the bottom to attract industry with weaker state regulatory standards. If that's what Minnesota wants we could rebrand ourselves as "Mississippi North."

I probably wouldn't be going on about this so much except that it puts me in mind of a Buckminster Fuller quote I ran across the other day.
Humans beings always do the most intelligent thing…after they’ve tried every stupid alternative and none of them have worked
Happy Presidents' Day!

Old Woman Nature

By Gary Snyder 

Old Woman Nature
naturally has a bag of bones
                tucked away somewhere.
                a whole room full of bones!

A scattering of hair and cartilage
               bits in the woods.

A fox scat with hair and a tooth in it.
               a shellmound
                      a bone flake in a streambank.

A purring cat, crunching
               the mouse head first,
                       eating on down toward the tail--
The sweet old woman
               calmly gathering firewood in the
               moon . . .

Don't be shocked,
She's heating you some soup.
                            VII, '81, Seeing Ichikawa Ennosuke in
                      "Kurozuka"—"Demoness"— at the Kabuki-za

                                                       in Tokyo

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Please be kind to each other while you can.