Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Swimmable? Fishable? Fixable? When?

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is conducting a Strategic Directions Survey. Responses are due tomorrow, May 3. I'd probably find it easier, and more meaningful, to respond if the Agency provided more meaningful descriptions of the extent and effects of Minnesota's current environmental quality efforts and the implications of not meeting environmental regulations. Here's a link to their "Dashboard 2016." The water quality section metrics don't really relate to the outcomes in MPCA's own 2015 report noted below.

The first question is "Is our air healthy to breathe?" As I read the document, it's never answered. Don't describe progress as being moderate or slow without also informing us what that means. How many people will die prematurely, sicken, lose quality of life per year as we progress?

Another major omission, as far as I'm concerned, is the failure to report on the percent of permits applied for but not issued on a timely basis. Are there many more permits like MinnTac's in the system? How many other water quality standards, such as the one for protecting wild rice, are "on the books" but not being enforced?

Is this fishable or swimmable? How can you tell?
Is this fishable or swimmable? How can you tell?
Photo by J. Harrington

I was extremely pleased to note Governor Dayton's recent initiative to promote a water ethic for Minnesota. However, as a former resident of northern Minnesota has written, "to live outside the law you must be honest." Way back when Congress enacted the Clean Water Act Amendment of 1972, (enacted over a veto by a Republican president by the way) it included an interim goal that all our waters should be "fishable-swimmable" by 1983. We're not close.

Swimmable, fishable, fixable? (2015)
Swimmable, fishable, fixable? (2015)

A recent study finds that Minnesota is not alone in its failure to attain water quality goals.
"To date, the water quality goals stated by Congress in the 1972 act have not been achieved by American society:
  • "to make all U.S. waters fishable and swimmable by 1983;"
  • "to have zero water pollution discharge by 1985;"
  • "to prohibit discharge of toxic amounts of toxic pollutants".[92]:1"
Minimizing the costs or difficulties of meeting environmental standards by describing prograss against unspecified metrics is a major disservice to the public and public health for both current and future generations. From everything I've read, with the exception of reports from the current federal administration, climate change responses and abatement will be even more challenging than attaining "fishable-swimmable" waters. We seem to have neither set a good example nor done ourselves any favors with the way we've approached our strategies for environmental quality.

How many jobs can we expect to create on a dead planet? What's the economic relationship between deteriorating environmental quality and increasing health care costs? Who benefits and who bears the costs of not attaining environmental standards? These are, in essence, ethical questions that go well beyond the realm of cost benefit analyses. For environmental justice and public health reasons, if anything we should consider cost effectiveness analyses.

Meeting the Mountains


By Gary Snyder


He crawls to the edge of the foaming creek   
He backs up the slab ledge
He puts a finger in the water
He turns to a trapped pool
Puts both hands in the water
Puts one foot in the pool
Drops pebbles in the pool
He slaps the water surface with both hands   
He cries out, rises up and stands
Facing toward the torrent and the mountain   
Raises up both hands and shouts three times!


VI 69, Kai at Sawmill Lake


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