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.