Opinion: The air we breathe, water we drink are now vulnerable

atlsky

(AJC)

When I moved to Atlanta in 1990, the region had a serious, serious air-pollution problem that seemed destined to worsen. On hot summer days, ozone levels sometimes rose so high that breathing could be difficult and even dangerous, and you didn’t need an ozone gauge to tell you when things were bad. It was so nasty and thick that you could see it.

At the time, state environmental officials had been cowed into inaction by political pressure, and business and governmental leaders fought corrective action at the federal level. They whined that cleaning up the air couldn’t be done, that the U.S. EPA was setting impossible standards that couldn’t be met and would destroy the regional economy and the growth that fed it. Complaints grew particularly intense after the region was stripped of federal transportation money as a penalty for its failure to agree upon a cleanup plan.

But over time we reformulated our gasoline, tightened emissions checks, forced Georgia Power to clean up its power plants, canceled major highway projects and came to grips with the idea that density was not an evil commie plot. Growth didn’t stop — the Atlanta metropolitan statistical area has almost doubled in population since 1990 — yet the air that we breathe is significantly cleaner. We still experience smog alerts, but they are nowhere near as severe nor as numerous. This remarkable success story has occurred so gradually that most Atlantans didn’t even register it. But if you took them back to a hot July day in 1993, I guarantee they would appreciate the difference.

You could tell a similar tale about water. Twenty-five years ago, even a brief rainstorm in the city of Atlanta would send tens of thousands of gallons of raw, untreated, unfiltered sewage pouring into the Chattahoochee River for our downstream neighbors to deal with. Once again, state officials were all but useless, afraid to take a strong stance in public while in private almost begging federal officials to intervene. Once again, the EPA did intervene, as did environmental groups who went to federal court to require that the city live up to its obligations. And the improvements since then have been significant.

Similar stories can be told all over the state. I remember going through files at the state Environmental Protection Division for a company called LCP Chemical in Brunswick, and being shocked at what I read. Mercury, PCBs and other chemicals that are toxic in amounts measured by parts per billion were being emitted by the plant in amounts totaling hundreds of thousands of pounds. State officials knew it, but they were allowing the company to remain in operation.

Again, the U.S. EPA finally intervened and demanded the plant’s closure, and after a full investigation was launched, six company officials were later sentenced to federal prison for their actions. LCP Chemical is now the largest Superfund site in the Southeast, closed to human activity, and dolphins that cruise the nearby waterways have been found to have PCB levels ten times higher than ever previously recorded.

These aren’t stories from ancient history, either. More recently, after a massive fish kill on the Ogeechee River in central Georgia, state environmental officials issued a slight slap on the wrist to King America, the company that had been caught dumping unpermitted pollution into the river. Georgia EPD officials then compounded that mistake by issuing a permit that basically gave the company official permission to continue polluting the river. That changed only after environmentalists turned to the federal courts to demand enforcement of the U.S. Clean Water Act. Today, King America is still operating, although under new, more responsible ownership and under much tighter standards, and the Ogeechee is considerably cleaner.

These and similar stories of real progress can be told in almost every state in the country. State environmental officials are often so starved for resources and so intimidated by political pressure that they lack the ability to act effectively.

Now, in Washington, the Trump administration has begun efforts to castrate the EPA in similar fashion. The former head of President Trump’s EPA transition team says that the goal will be to reduce EPA staffing by at least half, most of it in enforcement. Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, who has sued the EPA 14 different times to weaken its oversight of Oklahoma’s air, land and water, has now been nominated to lead the agency. Agency scientists are also under a gag order forbidding the release of any studies or analysis without review by political officials, most of whom will have no idea whatsoever about what they’re reading.

The goal is supposedly to return enforcement of federal environmental law to the state level “where it belongs,” as the explanation goes. They also talk about returning “balance” to the agency, but this isn’t a rebalancing, it’s a ransacking. The Trump administration and a Republican Congress don’t dare to try to gut the environmental-protection laws that have allowed us to make such progress. But they can achieve that same goal another way by pulling the environmental cops off the street, taking away their badges, guns and radios, halting prosecutions and otherwise ensuring that those laws are no longer enforced.

And some hard-won successes are going to be reversed in the process.

Reader Comments 0

2490 comments
ptcrunner
ptcrunner

...with every passing day, these protections are being stripped with executive orders killing regulations. The arguments in favor of this stripping is that it will lead to a higher degree of job growth, but facts show the opposite. Simply killing regulations is appeasing huge corporations for no reason. We will obviously see a more toxic environment under Trumpian rule which will lead to higher incidents of cancer never before seen in this country. 

Lee-Smucker
Lee-Smucker

Thank you for this astute, clear explanation of the current disturbing trajectory our new President is instituting

td1234
td1234

There were over 2,000 counties in the country that voted for Trump. Just think what would happen if most of them became secure communities? We could remove the criminal illegals out of the country in a hurry. 

gotalife
gotalife

The Saudis get a free pass to do another 9/11.

PaulinNH
PaulinNH

Going to yell at the TV for a while.  Come on Wigan!

gotalife
gotalife

The terrorists are celebrating.


russia and China are loving it.


Spiralling down to third world status.


We are in major decline.

Bruno2
Bruno2

Just to clarify, I believe we are all Children of God and equal in value as individuals, but I don't believe that all cultures are equal.  Societies which oppress women don't deserve respect in my book and shouldn't be accepted as being equal in value.  In addition, I believe sovereign countries have the right to control immigration.  That concept is practiced just about everywhere else in the world, so why it shouldn't apply to the US would be a mystery to me.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@Bruno2 

Borders are man-made.  God made this world without borders. 


Got to run.  Lunch date with my family.  No time to discuss.

PaulinNH
PaulinNH

@Bruno2  I can't argue with your points - apart from the God part ;-).  There is nothing wrong with having well designed, well thought out - and tough, if necessary - border controls.  Trump's EO is purely vindictive.

Bruno2
Bruno2

@PaulinNH @Bruno2 I'm sure you understand that I use "God" in the allegorical sense.  "God" = the Totality, not a Supernatural Being.

P.S. I'm working up my final questions to you regarding cosmology/Evolution.  IMO, determinism isn't sufficient to explain our Universe.  I want to frame my questions carefully, however, so that you can appreciate my viewpoint. One piece of the puzzle is our view of time. 

Bruno2
Bruno2

@MaryElizabethSings @Bruno2 I have to challenge your logic there, ME.  If humans are Creations of God, then everything we do is part of that Creation.  It is a fundamental error in theology to artificially separate "Manly" from "Godly".  In fact, that separation leads to a "dualistic" way of thinking that unnecessarily confuses us.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

The words of Albert Schweitzer, in 1905, from my link given of him, below:


"Our culture divides people into two classes: civilized men, a title bestowed on the persons who do the classifying; and others, who have only the human form, who may perish or go to the dogs for all the 'civilized men' care.

Oh, this 'noble' culture of ours! It speaks so piously of human dignity and human rights and then disregards this dignity and these rights of countless millions and treads them underfoot, only because they live overseas or because their skins are of different color or because they cannot help themselves. This culture does not know how hollow and miserable and full of glib talk it is, how common it looks to those who follow it across the seas and see what it has done there, and this culture has no right to speak of personal dignity and human rights...

I will not enumerate all the crimes that have been committed under the pretext of justice. People robbed native inhabitants of their land, made slaves of them, let loose the scum of mankind upon them. Think of the atrocities that were perpetrated upon people made subservient to us, how systematically we have ruined them with our alcoholic 'gifts', and everything else we have done... We decimate them, and then, by the stroke of a pen, we take their land so they have nothing left at all...

If all this oppression and all this sin and shame are perpetrated under the eye of the German God, or the American God, or the British God, and if our states do not feel obliged first to lay aside their claim to be 'Christian'—then the name of Jesus is blasphemed and made a mockery. And the Christianity of our states is blasphemed and made a mockery before those poor people. The name of Jesus has become a curse, and our Christianity—yours and mine—has become a falsehood and a disgrace, if the crimes are not atoned for in the very place where they were instigated. For every person who committed an atrocity in Jesus' name, someone must step in to help in Jesus' name; for every person who robbed, someone must bring a replacement; for everyone who cursed, someone must bless.

And now, when you speak about missions, let this be your message: We must make atonement for all the terrible crimes we read of in the newspapers. We must make atonement for the still worse ones, which we do not read about in the papers, crimes that are shrouded in the silence of the jungle night..."

gotalife
gotalife

America tossed our values for trump.

td1234
td1234

So now the progs are going crazy about the Trump administration re-instituting Secure communities.  

gotalife
gotalife

I don't believe in religious fairy tales but back in the day we had freedom of religion.

Might as well take it a step further and ban religion.

Less wars.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

One day, imho, all life on this planet will be valued, equally.  Moreover, the earth, itself, will be valued and revered.  That mental/spiritual understanding is indicative of higher consciousness. See Albert Schweitzer, Nobel Peace Prize recipient, 1952, for his work, "Reverence for Life."


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_Schweitzer

PaulinNH
PaulinNH

I love the smell of bigotry in the morning.

Me: Are you telling me that the lives of Syrian Christians are more important than the lives of American Muslims? 

TD:  Sounds like a reasonable point of view to me. 

It is in the American interest to protect Christians all over the world just like it is to protect Israel. 

td1234
td1234

@PaulinNH @td1234 Prejudice because it is choosing to prefer one group over the other instead of being intolerant of a certain group. 

td1234
td1234

@PaulinNH It is prejudice but I get your point and have no problem with my statement. 

Bruno2
Bruno2

@td1234 @PaulinNH All of us are Children of God, td.  If your religious training has led you to believe otherwise, then your training is whack.

PaulinNH
PaulinNH

@td1234 @PaulinNH  You stated that non-US Christians are more important than US Muslims.  That is called bigotry

td1234
td1234

@PaulinNH @td1234 BTW: Where did I say one single word about US Citizen Muslims. You are moving the goal post trying to make a point that a large majority of the citizens of this country will not accept. 

PaulinNH
PaulinNH

@td1234 @PaulinNH  The words in italics in my post are exact copy and paste of our conversation down blog. 

Do you even read what you post?

td1234
td1234

@PaulinNH @td1234 And then you apply your personal interpretation to my post and your interpretation does not reflect what I actually said. 

PaulinNH
PaulinNH

@td1234 @PaulinNH  My "interpretation" is based on the English language, not "TDese".

Well - what do you mean? Are Syrian Christians more important than American Muslims - because that's what you said before

Bruno2
Bruno2

rimsky: "She was wearing dressy flats but was told that the agency, Portico, required women to wear two- to four-inch heels. Thorp could go out and buy some, she was told. She refused and was sent home without pay."

I would guess that being sent home without pay for a day is a little less severe than being flogged in public or being disowned by your family.

rimsky
rimsky

@Bruno2 I couldn't help laughing.  But stoning and honor killing is still allowed in some countries.  Sexism is still a bad thing whether it is some third world country or in first world country. 

PaulinNH
PaulinNH

@Bruno2  Not very nice but the agency is within its rights to do that.

rimsky
rimsky

It is in the American interest to protect Christians all over the world just like it is to protect Israel. 

++++++

Yet you want the poor to pull on their boot straps.  Can you not use the same formula for Israelis? 

BTW America has people of many religion.  Why don't we protect them too?

Bruno2
Bruno2

So you're from Liverpool, Paul??  Wasn't there a local band from there who made good as well??  ; > }

One huge advantage of being born in the US is that we only have to learn 200 years of history.  Must be hard to memorize more than 2000 years of British history.

PaulinNH
PaulinNH

@Bruno2  Yep - from Liverpool but I am from the blue side of the city (support Everton).  Hillsborough is very close to home for me - friends of mine were at the game and the brother of a guy I was at school with died there.  Frank was 27.  I was at that stadium for a Cup Final replay a few years earlier - it could have been me.  There was a fantastic 30 for 30 about it a couple of years ago - covered it very well

Bruno2
Bruno2

@PaulinNH @Bruno2 Just being a little nosy, how would you describe your upbringing??  I'm guessing upper middle class.

In my case, my family was poor, but unnecessarily so (Dad was a gambler).  Not having any family backing was a huge handicap for me in college.  With a little more support, I feel that I could have made more of my education from Mudd. 

PaulinNH
PaulinNH

@Bruno2 @PaulinNH  Solid working class. Both parents worked and I grew up on a council estate. 

I am the first one in my family to go to university.  I had close to what in the US would be called a full ride

Bruno2
Bruno2

@PaulinNH @Bruno2 I'm the only one in my immediate family to graduate from college as well, but somehow I'm the poorest one.....

PaulinNH
PaulinNH

@rimsky @PaulinNH @Bruno2  It was much easier to bootstrap your way in the UK back then.  A kid in my class from down the street became the CEO of one of the most successful companies in the UK.  Another is now Chief Strategy Officer for a FTSE 100

rimsky
rimsky

@PaulinNH @rimsky @Bruno2 I earned scholarship in under graduate and TA in graduate school.  Which ever way you got here it bothers me none.  It is a good thing you persevered through hardship.

Bruno2
Bruno2

@PaulinNH @rimsky @Bruno2 I worked full-time all throughout college, so I only had to borrow $32,000.  Paying it back was pretty tough, however.  As a result, I have empathy for the kids today who graduate from school with $100,000 + in loans.

rimsky
rimsky

Posted about this late last night, but seems to have been ignored

++++

I posted the same this morning it got noticed.  Draw your conclusion.

td1234
td1234

Obama appointed Judge places the temp stay. While customs agents are ignoring her and siding with the President. 



OldJacketFan
OldJacketFan

@td1234 @OldJacketFan


And you know this how? Are you qualified to render a legal opinion on her ruling? If not STFU about "activist judge". That's your standard excuse when a court rules in a way you don't approve. Sheesh

td1234
td1234

@OldJacketFan Listening to ABC right now where the legal analyst is saying the law is on Trump's side. 


Why wasn't there outrage when Obama imposed the same type of ban for 6 months on Iraq nationals from coming into the country? 


Activist Judge 

OldJacketFan
OldJacketFan

@td1234 @OldJacketFan


If the "legal analyst" is correct then her ruling will be stayed.


If she had ruled to contrary I guess she would no longer be an "activist judge", right?

Oh and again, if you're not qualified to render a legal opinion on her ruling STFU

td1234
td1234

@OldJacketFan I am an American citizen so therefore have the first Amendment right to put forth any opinion that I see fit. You have the right to state the totally opposite opinion. 


You can KMA about telling me to STFU. 

OldJacketFan
OldJacketFan

@td1234 @OldJacketFan


Did I ever say you didn't have a right to say it? I just said you were and are unqualified to render a legal opinion and to STFU about doing so. I have the right to say that as well moron

td1234
td1234

@OldJacketFan And I was the right to say you are a DA. 


Although both are considered fighting words and could lead to someone getting their butt kicked.