Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Water ethic: fail? #WaterWednesday

In later August of this year, at the urging of WaterLegacy, I submitted comments to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) on their updated impaired waters list and Total Maximum Daily Load schedule. As WaterLegacy noted in their alert:
"the MPCA also said that the TMDL (Total Maximum Daily Load) studies to start limiting pollution and reducing contamination in these impaired waters need not be completed until 2029!

"The MPCA still has not restarted the mercury TMDL study of the St. Louis River that the Agency derailed in 2013.

"Finally, the MPCA has refused to list any wild rice waters impaired due to sulfate pollution. Despite commitments to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) since 2012, the Agency has never listed even one Minnesota wild rice impaired water!"
St. Louis River at Jay Cooke State Park
St. Louis River at Jay Cooke State Park
Photo by J. Harrington

Since Minnesota's Governor, Mark Dayton, has made this a Year of Water Action, I had hopes that my comments, along with those of others who care about Minnesota's water quality and public health and environmental justice, might do some good. I guess some of the staff at the MPCA may not have received the memo about Water Action legacy. I'm going to quote the entire body of the message I finally received in response to my comments.
"Thank you for your recent message regarding the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s (MPCA) draft 2016 impaired waters list, and for sharing your concerns about mercury contamination in fish, and sulfate impacts on wild rice in Minnesota. 
"Under Section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act, states submit lists of impaired waters to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) every two years for review and approval. Following the close of MPCA’s public comment period, the state will submit a final 2016 impaired waters list to U.S. EPA. U.S. EPA will take your concerns into consideration as it reviews MPCA’s final impaired waters list. Thank you for your interest in protecting the quality of Minnesota waters." (emphasis added)
St Louis River at Duluth Harbor
St Louis River at Duluth Harbor
Photo by J. Harrington

My understanding of an ethic is that it goes beyond laws and regulations and motivates those who hold it to do what's called for above and beyond minimum legal requirements. At least that's what I believe caring is supposed to be all about. My reading of the MPCA response above is that the agency is "passing the buck" to EPA (you know, that same federal agency that "protected" the water supply of the citizens of Flint, MI). Given EPA's "emergency protection," MPCA's deferral to EPA is not what I would hope for or expect from an agency that should be setting an example in how to live up to the Governor's statement “It is time now to take action, as individuals and as a state, to leave a legacy of clean, safe, affordable water for ourselves, and for future generations of Minnesotans.” Mercury and sulfate impaired waters that won't be improved for decades even after they exist as known problems isn't the kind of legacy I'd want for future generations.

Dear Mr. Fanelli,

By Charles Bernstein

I saw your picture
in the 79th street
station. You said
you’d be interested
in any comments I
might have on the
condition of the
station Mr. Fanelli,
there is a lot of
debris in the 79th street
station that makes it
unpleasant to wait in
for more than a few
minutes. The station
could use a paint
job and maybe
new speakers so you
could understand
the delay announcements
that are always being
broadcast. Mr.
Fanelli—there are
a lot of people sleeping
in the 79th street station
& it makes me sad
to think they have no
home to go to. Mr.
Fanelli, do you think
you could find a more
comfortable place for them
to rest? It’s pretty noisy
in the subway, especially
all those express trains
hurtling through every
few minutes, anyway when the
trains are in service.
I have to admit, Mr. Fanelli, I
think the 79th street station’s
in pretty bad shape
& sometimes at night
as I toss in my bed
I think the world’s
not doing too good
either, & I
wonder what’s going
to happen, where we’re
headed, if we’re
headed anywhere, if
we even have heads. Mr.
Fanelli, do you think if
we could just start
with the 79th street
station & do what
we could with that
then maybe we could,
you know, I guess, move
on from there? Mr.
Fanelli, when I saw your
picture & the sign
asking for suggestions
I thought, if
you really wanted to
get to the bottom
of what’s wrong then
maybe it was my job
to write to you: Maybe
you’ve never been inside
the 79th street station
because you’re so busy
managing the 72nd street
& 66th street stations,
maybe you don’t know
the problems we have
at 79th—I mean the
dirt & frequent
delays & the feeling of
total misery that
pervades the place. Mr.
Fanelli, are you reading
this far in the letter
or do you get so
many letters every day
that you don’t have
time to give each
one the close attention
it desires? Or am I
the only person who’s
taken up your invitation
to get in touch &
you just don’t have enough
experience to know how to
respond? I’m sorry
I can’t get your attention
Mr. Fanelli because I really
believe if you ask
for comments then you
ought to be willing
to act on them—even
if ought is too
big a word to throw
around at this point.
Mr. Fanelli
I hope you won’t
think I’m rude
if I ask you a
personal question. Do
you get out of the
office much?
Do you go to the movies
or do you prefer
sports—or maybe
quiet evenings at a
local restaurant? Do
you read much, Mr. Fanelli?
I don’t mean just
Gibbons and like
that, but philosophy—
have you read much
Hanna Arendt or
do you prefer
a more ideological
I think if I understood
where you are coming from,
Mr. Fanelli, I could
write to you more cogently,
more persuasively. Mr.
Fanelli, do you get out
of the city at all—I
mean like up to Bear
Mountain or out to
Montauk? I mean do you
notice how unpleasant
the air is in the 79th
street station—that we
could use some cooling
or air-filtering system
down there? Mr.
Fanelli, do you think
it’s possible we
could get together
and talk about
these things in
person? There are
a few other points
I’d like to go over
with you if I could
get the chance. Things
I’d like to talk to
you about but that
I’d be reluctant to
put down on paper.
Mr. Fanelli, I haven’t
been feeling very good
lately and I thought
meeting with you face
to face might change
my mood, might put
me into a new frame
of mind. Maybe we
could have lunch?
Or maybe after work?
Think about it, Mr.

Thanks for visiting. Come again when you can.
Please be kind to each other while you can.