Wednesday, March 18, 2015

It's just commons sense

I'm not particularly religious, but I frequently find wisdom in religious texts. This opinion piece in the Star Tribune put me in mind of the manners my mother tried to teach me when I was much, much younger. She probably picked it up from the bible where, In Psalm 37:21 God says, "The wicked borrow, and do not repay." Remember, if you can't replace it, think twice about borrowing it. Representative Fabian's Editorial counterpoint: MPCA legislation is common sense, not politics seems to me to entirely miss a couple of key points. First, it seems to me that water should be governed by commons sense. Users borrow water, they don't own it. It belongs to all of us. Water should be returned at least as clean as when borrowed, if not cleaner (if you can't replace it, think twice about borrowing it).

would you rather swim here?
would you rather swim here?
Photo by J. Harrington

Second, there is already substantial transparency in the entire water quality standards setting and permitting process. More transparency isn't likely to result in better outcomes from the perspective of the environment or those who use and enjoy it and depend on clean water. For example, a quick search of the internet turns up a 2003 Technical Memorandum from Barr Engineering to the MPCA on phosphorus reduction efforts. It notes a range of costs and approaches, including costs for Rochester's phosphorus removal, and that phosphorus limits are set for significant industrial users to the treatment plant. I doubt that Representative Fabian is suggesting industry should be subsidized by other users of a publicly owned treatment works.

or swim here?
or swim here?
Photo by J. Harrington

Water quality regulations set the water quality standards to be met as part of an ongoing public process. (In Minnesota, 40% of our waters don't meet standards.) A discharge permit, usually publicly noticed, limits the concentration, total amount, frequency or similar factors for the pollutant to be discharged, depending on the receiving water's assimilative capacity and mixing zone. Costs can and do vary widely depending on the treatment process used and how the project was financed. Remember that for a 20 year loan at 4%, almost half the cost of repayment is interest. Make it a 30 year schedule and almost 75% of the payments are interest. The costs of Minnesota's polluted water shouldn't be, but are, felt all the way into the Gulf of Mexico. I suspect, if Representative Fabian were representing shrimpers in Louisiana, he might have a different perspective on the costs of phosphorous removal in Minnesota. It's just commons sense. As a Minnesotan who boats and fishes and enjoys our famed quality of life, I'd rather the legislature ask MPCA how it is that some industrial facilities can go 23 years without renewing their environmental permit than needlessly increase the transparency of a process that's already quite public.


By A. E. Stallings
Read the Q & A
So long I have been carrying myself
Carefully, carefully, like a small child
With too much water in a real glass
Clasped in two hands, across a space as vast
As living rooms, while gazes watch the waves
That start to rile the little inland sea
And slap against its cliffs' transparency,
Revise and meet, double their amplitude,
Harmonizing doubt from many ifs.
Distant frowns like clouds begin to brood.
Soon there is overbrimming. Soon the child
Looks up to find a face to match the scolding,
And just as he does, the vessel he was holding
Is almost set down safely on the bookshelf.

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