Skepticism on Tire-burning Plant is Reasonable

Proponents of the proposed tire-burning plant in Watsontown tell us not to worry – the technology they are using puts the emissions well within the safe limits determined by the DEP and EPA. Some imply that the concern expressed by “deeply invested groups” is exaggerated, likely to raise alarm rather than encourage a cool appraisal of the facts.

A cool appraisal of the facts, however, is likely to raise, not lower residents’ concerns about the project. When it comes to environmental regulation, the effect of the “deeply invested groups” has consistently been to underplay the environmental hazards of industrial production, endangering workers, community members and threatening to destabilize the balance of nature on which we all depend.

Regulation of industry has been under attack for the past thirty-five years. Proponents of deregulation wrongly believe that market incentives will prevent corporations from taking actions that will harm us. They claim that regulations are onerous intrusions on our personal freedom, products of a nanny state intent on depriving us of liberty.

The exploding fertilizer factory in West, Texas and the collapsing factory in the Bangladeshi sweatshop that killed those poor workers are grim evidence that effective regulation is absolutely necessary to protect us from corporate shortsightedness. Financial incentives encouraged these firms to ignore the safety regulations that would have saved these workers lives. Every day in the U.S., thirteen workers fail to return home from work due to dangerous working conditions that could be mitigated with reasonable regulation. Deregulation kills people. Full stop.

In the case of environmental legislation, corporations have worked relentlessly to disable our once-effective system of regulation. Dick Cheney, as Vice President under George Bush, worked to ensure the energy industries were exempt from important provisions of the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts. As a result, natural gas drilling companies do not have to disclose what chemicals they are using to fracture shale. Without this information, we cannot take the reasonable steps to protect our natural environment from being destroyed.

Not only have these corporations pushed for the dismantling of regulation, they have also pushed for the elimination of funding necessary to enforce the meager regulation that remains. As a result we now have a weak set of environmental and safety regulations that is poorly enforced.

So when the National Gypsum Company tells us that it is using the latest technology to burn tires and that the pollution is well within the limits set by the EPA and DEP, it is reasonable to be skeptical. It is reasonable to ask whether those limits are indeed safe. It is reasonable, too, to ask if the additional toxic load to our environment, whether or not it is deemed to be at a “safe” level when considered independently from other toxins, won’t in fact cause more chronic illness in our community when added to the toxins to which we are presently exposed. In the absence of effective regulation that is adequately enforced, we should err on the side of caution and insist that if Gypsum wants to generate renewable energy, they should invest in technologies, like solar, that don’t pollute, instead of trying to convince us that tires can be burned without endangering our health.

It is not the “deeply invested” environmental groups that ought to concern us. It is the shortsighted decisions of corporate interests that are inadequately regulated and poorly enforced.

Labor Day

submitted by Joe Detelj

Cancer is a metabolic process of undifferentiated cell division. Ultimately, growth of the tumor is limited by the death of the host organism. Growth of GDP as an index of undifferentiated economic growth is widely held to be a measure of social  health and well being. We are more fully served by the biological insight and are at a minimum, misguided by the creation of the orthodox economist whose self serving conclusions are the necessary product of  unreal assumptions.

But, faulty algorithms aside, growth, the gospel of entrenched public policy has collided with the real world of six billion humans; finite resources, in particular cheap and easily extracted fossil fuels; climate change; and the metastasized social inequality embedded in the DNA of capitalism. Clearly, we are at a profound point in our history. Species extinction, in particular our own, has  to be considered a  possibility. Issues of equity, justice, and a  sustainable mode of production  compel a need for a more democratic, decentralized, and biologically based economy.  This will not be easily accomplished. The dominant political climate is characterized by fear and denial, paradoxically, based on a recognition of the current state of affairs and a general inability to imagine a solution. There is nothing more urgent than the need to seriously begin a conversation relative to what fundamental changes need to be implemented and what will a more appropriate social order be like.

The choices being offered by the usual suspects are not exactly comforting. One wing of the Party is seeking an acceleration of deregulation and the continued privatization of all public goods. . The other wing is seeking to moderate the mechanisms of destruction that precipitated the crisis and is only willing to make changes on the margin, all the while the rants and raves of the lunatic fringe decry a drift toward socialism. While it must be admitted that risk and costs have indeed been socialized for finance capital and transnational corporations, too-big-to-fail, profits have clearly remained in private and limited pockets, and that is the root cause of the problem.

If there ever was a fable for our time it is Humpty Dumpty, for all the king’s men and women are unable to put Humpty together again limited as they are by imagination, vested self interest and the courage to redistribute even a modicum of the obscene concentration of wealth the is the dominant feature of our gilded age. A recent AP story in our local newspaper featured a Labor Day(which is May1 in most of the world, pardon the digression) article that presented a bleak future for American workers .It was, incidentally, the catalyst for this response. It presented the continued demise of the middle class, that is, those workers paid a wage above subsistence, and the establishment of a two tiered work force consisting of highly skilled more richly compensated workers supported by an army of low paid service workers. The options we are to accept seems to be computer science or Wal-Mart, McDonald’s, or Pizza Hut with no room for a skill set in between. This is the service economy that was promoted by the usual suspects as the envy of the world.

We are truly living a paper economy with any real substance being off-shored as fast as the masters of the universe on Wall Street can click their mouse. It is however, entirely within our power to initiate a more viable alternative. While it is unlikely that we have a complete blueprint for the  democratic and sustainable social order that we will need to create amid the ruins, there are concrete policies that can be implemented as transitional steps that will facilitate the process. Historically, the period from the end of the second World War until the early 1970’s  was received as a golden age of sorts. It clearly was the economic highlight for the vast majority of Americans. Admittedly, the period suffered serious imperfections, but it was for most a prosperous time. Workers wages and corporate profits were simultaneously rising. The Treasury enjoyed trade and domestic surpluses. Union membership was approximately 40% of the workforce.  The tax code pre Reagan consisted of a marginal rate of 91% and wealth was more equitably distributed than at any other time in our history. It was accepted morality that a progressive income tax and high inheritance taxes was not just fair, but actually sound public policy. A necessary starting point for popular demand that offers a concrete and specific solution  to our present malaise must be the reinstallation of a progressive income tax and the prosecution of off-shore tax havens whose existence has allowed the wealthiest corporations to pay little or no taxes. Presently, half of all international trade transactions are processed through these sheltered accounts whose sole purpose is to evade any contribution to the public welfare. The real, not imagined cause of the current deficit lies in the tax code.

If we are to ever provide the infrastructure repair and replacement for our bridges, roads, water and sewer treatment plants, and schools, to illustrate a few options, we need to abandon WTO and return to a trade policy that nurtures domestic industries and ultimately self-sufficiency to the degree that is practical and equitable. Free trade is not fair trade. If a decentralized, environmentally sound infrastructure, the green revolution, is to replace the toxic petroleum based, centralized economy, then selective tariffs and tax policies whose benefits have been promoted by such distinguished radicals such as Hamilton, Jefferson, and Adams need to be reintroduced.

And lastly, in light of the most perverse Supreme Court decision since Dred Scott, the Citizen United case, advocacy and action must be directed at enforcement of the anti-trust laws currently on the books and not enforced. Ultimately, at the core of the political corruption, the disenfranchisement of our citizenry, the environmental degradation, and the endless wars to ensure the peace, lies the insatiable need for finance capital and transnational corporations to squeeze blood from a rock, to in effect, get bigger and bigger until eventually only a few merged, mega-entities, and a desolate planet with a ravaged populace remains. Numerous small firms, a more competitive landscape, scale appropriate to community influence, and cooperative ventures are all desirable alternatives that can fill the void left in the wake of Wal-Mart like concentrations.

A reconstruction is over due. If we, the vast majority, are reasonable to seek a better tomorrow and a legacy worth leaving then the modest, concrete, and achievable modest proposals suggested here, which are by no means novel, but rather a rediscovery of proven past practice are real possibilities for a popular movement of change. We have no need for change that requires belief as its only ingredient, but change that embraces caring, commitment, and a challenge to the status quo.

The Man from St. Malo

The Man from St. Malo

Think on it – how

many buildings

made – how many roads

laid bridges balanced fence posts

dug and strung how

amazing what we have

done.

Amazing

too all those we’ve trained

and killed and eaten all the noise

– fireworks rockets bullets

bombs – not much left

undone.

Boy what fun.

Hasn’t it been a good run?

I wonder if the man

from St. Malo ever thought

it would end, ever thought this

river taking him into that

new world would just

stop.

Commentary:  I remember being moved as a young teen by the depiction of the explorers who came from Europe to the “New World.”  The Man from St. Malo, a fictionalized account of one of these explorers – Champlain I believe – came to me as I considered the latest news of the collapse of the ecosystem that we are currently witnessing.  His dependence on the river to navigate what he perceived as a new world seemed an appropriate metaphor for our current plight.

Bach, Butterflies and a Rooster

Submitted by Joe Detelj

This past winter was not particularly severe, yet I could see it take its toll on our old rooster. Incredibly the old geezer has been with us for well over a decade which is really ancient for a chicken. He happened to be one of our many fortunate accidents. Ordinarily I buy replacement chicks that are sexed. Females, or pullets, lay eggs after approximately twenty weeks from hatching which was my intended purpose. Males, or cockerels, do not lay eggs at maturity, they fertilize them, a better deal it seems to me from a biased perspective. Chickens do not form bonded pairs. If there are several adult males they will fight relentlessly until a dominant rooster prevails and reigns over his hareem. The lesser males lead a beleaguered existence . Nature is generous  but not kind,  unless we humans are included in the mix and that can be an iffy proposition.                                                                                                                                 

As there is no functional purpose for squabbling male redundancy, few cockerels can look forward to a leisurely life as the cock of the walk. Sunday diner is the more likely destiny for most. So, as this relates to our flock, it happened that I purchased a late bloomer, or the sexer had an off day as this is apparently not a zero defect process though remarkably accurate most of the time based on my  past experiences. After several weeks there was no mistaking the fact that there was an odd fellow in the flock. Intention  went out the window because I was now faced with reality and not perceived purpose. We kept this guy even though our Rhode Island Reds were not good setters and we would not be hatching their eggs. Bacon, sausage, and pancakes were to be the eggs future mates.                                                                                                                        

Clearly, our boy had won the chicken lottery big time. He kept the hens content and maintained order in the court yard. He was vigilant and warned of any passing change. A sound remarkably like ours for hawk, though extremely drawn out would upon an aerial inspection reveal a circling red tail. A comical Chinese fire drill followed with mad dashes for the safety of the coop, and akin to the lore of the captain and his ship, the rooster was always last critter in, and with a strut that oozed defiance for the hawk.                                                                                           

 Over time the rooster gained squatter’s rights and just belonged . He took his place along with the other creatures who have found a haven at Dreamcatcher Farm.  Not unexpectedly, I found him hunched over in the corner of the coop at the beginning of our crazy summer-fall-spring. His job was finished, he was now going to be placed under a bush, undisturbed where no hawk was going to chase him again. This passing poses a question in regard to his replacement. Conventional Ag economic thought as advocated in the Ag colleges and through their extension agents holds that if the animal does not return an income above its cost of production then it should not be on the farm. If the return is a penny or two, then add thousands. .To my mind this is a calloused calculus that favors maximized commodity production above any other consideration. It is the rationale behind the removal of tree lines and the consequent pheasant habitat destruction and a host of equally mindless economic enhancements.                                                                                                                                                       

This all brought to mind a feature I had recently seen about a biologist who was heroically working to preserve the Mexican forests that serve as the migratory home for the Monarch butterfly. The cash calculus is operative there also as logging is threatening these miraculous creatures existence. When questioned about the superior human requirement for the timber resources, the biologist gave a provocative response.. He said, in effect, we could survive without Monarchs, and we could survive without Bach, Beethoven, or Shakespear, but we would be much less human without them. I also believe we could exist without Smokey Robinson, Bob Dylan, or Patsy Cline . We could maximize production without any need for e.e. cummings, John Steinbach or Barbara Kingsolver. You could easily name your own choices to make my point and change it frequently. Our capacity for choice is guided by many considerations and that quality that moderates economic maximization is what separates us from bees, locusts, and a pack of jackals.                                                                                                                                                   

So in the end, the choice is no choice at all. I could enable the production of more stuff, future land fill if you will, or get a replacement rooster whose contribution to the farm has no economic value, and is therefore priceless.

Simple Poem

Sometimes the unbelievable happens.

As when a butterfly (Monarch, I think)

Lit on the back of my right hand,

Remained there for five minutes.

I looked directly into his eyes,

Down the furry thorax, watched

His inch-long tongue, a soft wire, work

Away on my skin, felt it. I saw how

His wings are in two parts, larger

And smaller, moving back and forth

Regularly, as if he were breathing

With them.  He showed no fear of me,

Even when I spoke to him.  Slowly

He grazed my hand, a cow chomping about

A pasture.  Leaving, he flew crazily.

Drunk? From me? And now the what

You will not believe: he came back,

Licking away again, but for longer. I

Was transfixed – that royal butterfly

Thralled my hand into a rock, twice,

Made the whole mountain move.

                                                (7/11/95)

Karl Patten

from Touch: Poems

Deadly Gas

submitted by Joe Detelj

In the recent past, the good people of our Valley waged a gallant and successful protest and prevented the development of a hazardous waste incinerator from being built here. Our people ignored the pleas for short term economic gain and correctly saw their long term self interests were greatly jeopardized.

A similar but even more menacing threat exists today. Hydrofracking as a means of releasing natural gas in our deep rock formations produces millions of gallons of toxic waste water that contains approximately 100 chemicals that range in effect from unhealthy to deadly. The water is also very likely to be radioactive, contaminated by the radon that had been sequestered in the shale.

There are no regulations on the books that regulates or provides monitoring guidlines for this very recent technology. DEP staff has been cut to the bone in the last belated budget. Unfortunately, things have changed since the “burner battle”; times are leaner and meaner.

Will we swallow the poison pill for the promise of  immediate relief to a depressed economy, or will we struggle again for a sustainable , longer term legacy? I believe the defining question of our time is whether we seriously pursue a green econmy or do we become a modern Centralia sacrificed for this economy in another place?

Freeways to Rails

Submitted by David Hafer

A prominent ecologist was once asked at an Earth Day event to name the most serious environmental problem facing the United States. His answer was General Motors.

To anyone familiar with monumental pollution problems created by cars and trucks, his answer was right on target. General Motors symbolizes the giant corporate members of the highway lobby – the powerful interests who have pushed the United States to abandon its energy efficient rail system in favor of an abysmally inefficient, polluting and socially disruptive highway system.

Beginning in 1925, GM, along with Standard Oil and Firestone Rubber, conspired to buy out more than a hundred streetcar systems in forty cities. Then dismantled and paved them over to make room for automobiles. This systemic campaign to destroy the electric trolley systems lasted until 1949 when GM was indicted for criminal conspiracy.

The corporate conspirators eventually pleaded guilty and paid a fine of five thousand dollars for destroying a non-polluting mass transit system that would cost billions of dollars to replace. The dismantling of rail transit followed by decades of unrestrained government spending for highway construction has left the U.S. with a legacy of pollution and an insatiable need for petroleum.

Consider the pollution problems created by our unhealthy dependence on motor vehicles. Cars and trucks produce thirty percent of the carbon dioxide that contributes to the greenhouse effect, causing global warming. The average car on the road today gets twenty seven and a half miles per gallon and produces thirty eight tons of emissions over its lifetime. The emissions for motor vehicles include forty percent of the nitrogen oxides that contribute to acid rain, and eighty percent of the carbon monoxide that creates smog.

Massive air pollution is one problem; the highway system’s impact on land use is equally destructive. Sixty percent of our urban areas are paved for highways and parking lots. So much land area is devoted to highways that automobiles seem to be pushing people out of their living space.

In addition to the destruction of open space, wildlife habitat and farmland, highway development fragments communities. Neighborhoods are divided and highway strip development takes retail business away from downtown contributing to economic decline in cities and towns. Continue reading