Well, it’s Earth Day, April 22nd, and Earth Week, and so on. This is the 51st Earth Day since April 22, 1970. What does it mean, aside from extra doses of press releases and fundraising emails, and self-congratulatory rhetoric from our worst polluters?
A year ago, a flagrantly criminal President, trump, was hacking and slashing at regulatory agencies. The worst attacks on the integrity of government since Reagan were in full flood. Trump is gone, and some repair is under way under Biden. How long repairs will take,and how complete they will be, remains to be seen. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and many other agencies never fully recovered from Reaganism. But, things are looking up at the moment.
Environmental Justice (“EJ”) may finally be taking hold in a meaningful way. I say “may” with reason. When EJ became a matter of law in the 1980s, EPA created a bogus EJ industry of people and orgs paid to gin up fancy-ass rhetoric that sounded nice but left poor and minority communities as helpless and polluted as ever. But, more people are finally making the connection between poverty, political disempowerment, pollution, and disease. “Climate Justice” is a thing. Historically lilly-white “enviro” orgs are jumping on the EJ bandwagon and belching out emails. Whether results will be delivered in suffering communities remains to be seen, but there are grounds for some hope.
The literature on the health effects of air and water pollution continues to grow and solidify. It’s indisputable that “compliance” with the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act (etc) isn’t good enough. Much more aggressive efforts to give people clean and clean water would pay huge social and health benefits. The question is: how do we get there, politically.
The Elephant in the Room, of course, is climate change. The two states I follow most closely make interesting comparisons. Delaware is by far the lowest-lying state, with a mean elevation of 60 feet. (Florida and Louisiana are next at 100 feet.) Minnesota’s mean elevation is 1200 feet. Both states are experiencing accelerating disruption, but it’s likely that much of Delaware will be under water within a generation or two. Minnesota will survive,and perhaps receive many climate refugees. Neither state has taken much meaningful action to abate global warming, nor seems likely to.
Both states are experiencing meltdowns in the quality and integrity of environmental regulation. Thus, as the need for effective environmental regulation grows, the ability to actually deliver it declines. “Regulatory Capture” (by special interests) is where we are at.
For some details please see “Earth Day “Broken Promises”: How Special Interests Capture MN Government,” from Paula Maccabee and Don Arnosti.
(This letter, slightly edited, ran in the Delaware State News on September 12, 2020.)
Roughly half of eligible Delawareans vote. What about the other half that doesn’t bother to vote? My sense is that many people don’t feel they have much of a stake in the outcome. They assume, correctly, that most Delaware officials, regardless of party, will be loyal servants of big business. They believe that even the most obvious needs, such as universal access to health care, won’t be seriously on the agenda regardless of who wins. Few politicians better personify this “Delaware Way” approach than Senator Chris Coons.
But now Coons has a for-real primary election opponent in Jessica Scarane. Scarane impresses me as real progressive who “gets it” and means what she says. In a recent post she said: “Every single day, I talk to Delawareans who are drowning in student loan debt, can’t afford to see a doctor, and are working 2-3 jobs just to keep a roof over their heads. It doesn’t have to be this way. We can guarantee every single person health care, housing, clean air and water, and living wages. As Senator, I’ll fight for Medicare for All, housing as a right, a Green New Deal, student loan forgiveness, and a living wage of at least $15/hour tied to cost of living.” See a lot more at https://www.jessfordelaware.com/issues? Scarane is, of course, up against a big-money Coons campaign and the national “Corporate Democratic” establishment.
Scarane would make a difference in the Senate. She deserves the vote of every open-minded registered Democrat.
Polls open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on September 15th. (Only registered Democrats can vote in this primary).
Alan Muller Green Delaware
Note: The results: Coons 73%, Scarane 27%. Coons’ Republican opponent in the general election was the crank Lauren Witzke, “conservative activist and proponent of the QAnon conspiracy theory.” Coons beat Witzke 59% to 38%. Coons and Carper subsequently were one of a few “Democrats” to vote agains a $15/hour minimum wage bill.
I’ve been trying to write about this for a while and always tend to stop. Is it important to others? I don’t really know. And I surely should have known better than to try what I tried.
But somehow it seems important to write about Delaware as it really is.
Spending most of my time in Minnesota the last few years has given me, I think, a better sense of proportion. It’s helped me to notice things previously taken for granted.
Consider, for example, that most states are divided up into towns or townships. This is the first level of government most people encounter, and it’s likely to be small and informal enough that people can influence it, or at least be heard. Delaware is not this way. Unless you live in a city or town, the first level of government is the county, which is likely to be controlled by developers and almost beyond the influence of ordinary residents. (In New Castle County, one may encounter “civic associations” representing neighborhoods, and “umbrella” groups, representing clusters of neighborhoods, but these have no official standing and in any even are generally controlled by the county.)
At the state level, Delaware has no real provisions for initiative (people-initiated legislation), referendum (votes on issues as opposed to candidates), and recall (kicking officeholders out of before their terms are up). Add to this that Delaware may be the only state in which the legislature can amend the constitution without a popular vote.
So it is likely that Delawareans have less opportunity to participate meaningfully in government than in most other states. A “ Company State,” as Ralph Nader called it in 1973.
Other toxic aspects of government, such as control of the legislature by big money lobbyists, are probably similar to what one finds in any US state capital. But even here we have a special problem–Delaware earns its living, so to speak, as a safe harbor for business misconduct, competing with the likes of the Cayman Islands, etc. Every year Delaware spawns thousands of artificial “citizens” (corporations, limited partnerships, etc) but accepts no responsibility for their subsequent conduct. It is by intent that these artificial citizens have far more rights than human citizens.
https://www.salon.com/2016/02/22/how_delaware_became_an_american_haven_for_grand_corruption/“The proliferation of these kinds of shell corporations out of places like Delaware is contributing significantly to the increase in wealth inequality where wealthy individuals and multinationals can exponentially increase their wealth by hiding it in these low tax or no tax jurisdictions,” says Clark Gascoigne, Interim Director at the Financial Accountability and Corporate Transparency (FACT) Coalition. “At the same time we see regular citizens in the U.S. and the rest of the world dealing with stagnant, or even declining wages while still having to shoulder more and more of the tax burden.” If an employer in Ohio wants to move its production to Mexico, and cheat its workers of earned pensions and medical benefits, it can declare bankruptcy in Delaware, where a (federal) bankruptcy judge will probably be happy to screw over the workers and customers are requested, while authorizing huge golden parachutes for managers and investors. (Efforts to require companies to file for bankruptcy where they operate, so workers and creditors would have a better chance, have met with raving opposition by the likes of Biden and Carper.)
Still, thing have shifted a bit. The US Chamber of Commerce used to proclaim every year that Delaware’s courts were it’s favorite. Basically, the criteria was how impossible it was to sue businesses successfully. But in 2017 The Evil Chamber ranked South Dakota first, Minnesota 4th, and Delaware 11th. Does this mean Delaware’s courts are actually improving? Or that others are getting worse?
I once heard the Chief Justice of Delaware give a speech. He claimed repeatedly that Delaware’s courts are tools for “economic development.” When he was done, the whole audience stood up and clapped. No one threw up. But note that there is a very different attitude towards servicing corporations and growing the income of lawyers, by building up the Court of Chancery and the Supreme Court, and providing justice to ordinary citizens.
In Minnesota and most other states, if you go to court over a traffic ticket or whatever, you go to a District Court; a “court of record” with a professional judge. In Delaware you are likely to appear before a “Justice of the Peace” or Magistrate, who may or may not be a lawyer. Where no record of what was said is kept, and where abuses may be common. (You may or may not have the option of transferring your case to a real court.) Defenders of this antique system tend to claim that Delaware “can’t afford” real courts for human citizens.
More comments on counties. Most states are divided into them. The US has more than 3000. Minnesota has 87. Texas has 354. Delaware has 3. Forms of county government vary, though a board of commissioners or a county council is typical. Delaware’s three counties have three distinct forms: Sussex County is run by a Council, which seems to be the top authority. Kent County is run by a Levy Court, which has both legislative and administrative duties. New Castle County has an elected County Executive–kind of a dictator in practice–and a County Council that serves mainly to generate scandal. But note that both Chris Coons and Joe Biden were launched directly into the US Senate from the New Castle County Council. (From what I’ve seen, Kent County seems the best governed.)
In most places counties have lots of responsibilities. They have roads to maintain, health services to provide, laws to enforce, schools, jails to operate, wetlands to protect, and so on.
In Delaware, there is not a foot of county road. The state is responsible. Public health programs, to the extent there are any, are run by the state. There are no county jails (thankfully) There are no county courts. Only one of the three counties does law enforcement. Schools are the responsibility of others.
What Delaware’s counties do is make “land use” decisions. Meaning they approve development projects, which generally don’t need state consent. So they don’t have to consider the costs of what they approve, because they don’t have to build and maintain the roads, schools, other infrastructure. It’s this disconnect between authority and responsibility that leads to bad decisions.
Two small states, Connecticut and Rhode Island, have had the sense to abolish their counties.
I see that Rep. John Kowalko, Amy Roe of the Sierra Club, and Delaware Audubon leaders have all been ridiculed by Harry Themal in a recent column. He called them “Luddites” – a label that’s also been applied to me on these pages – for advocating enforcement of Delaware environmental laws. I’m sure these parties have enough self-confidence to realize there is no higher compliment, no better evidence of moral fiber and good citizenship, than to be smeared on the editorial page of The News Journal.
For an non-environmental example: Consider the late Rep. Al O. Plant, who was ridiculed relentlessly by The News Journal, essentially for the offense of being an uppity black person. It was only many years later, when Plant had mellowed, or sold out, or been incorporated into the “system” – depending on how one wants to see it – that he was mentioned respectfully on the editorial page. Mr. Themal, if I recall correctly, has been ridiculing people better than himself since 1959. Perhaps, even by your standards, enough is enough?
A very dubious organization, “Renew Oil,” is trying to build a tire/plastics incinerator at 78 MuCullough Drive in New Castle. Keeping pollution-belching incinerators out of Delaware has long been a priority and new incinerators are essentially not legal in Delaware, because they are not allowed within three miles of the property boundary of any school, church, park, hospital, or residence. Continue reading →