Earth Day thoughts: Fix a poor "recycling" bill

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Earth Day thoughts

SB 234, latest Delaware “recycling” bill, shuts down container deposit program rather than fixing it.  This isn’t good enough.  Please ask Senators to hold off voting on this bill until it can be fixed.

Last week was the 40th anniversary of the first Earth Day in 1970.  Few serious environmental campaigners have much interest any more in Earth Day, which is mostly now celebrated by big polluters “greenwashing” themselves.  But it is still a good time to reflect on where we are and how we arrived.

The years around 1970 were a time of ferment and activity.  Rivers stank and caught fire.  Smokestacks belched.  Dumps reeked and burned.  People died from exposure to chemical poisons.  A sense of urgency about environmental problems lead to passage of many of our basic environmental laws such as the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act.

The US Environmental Protection Agency started up in 1970 and state agencies such as the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) soon followed.

The USA became the world leader in environmental protection.

Long-established organizations like the Sierra Club and the National Audubon Society took on new energy, and new organizations such as the Natural Resources Defense Council (1970), and Environmental Defense (1967) sprang up.

Delaware passed its Coastal Zone Act in 1971 under the leadership of Governor Russ Peterson, with the immediate goal of keeping Shell from building a second oil refinery in Delaware.

Global warming, known to experts, wasn’t a mainstream issue.

What happened and where are we 40 years later?

Enforcement of the Federal environmental laws was mostly delegated to the states, often allowing the political power of big polluters to prevail, and leading to lax and non-uniform enforcement. Thus, for example, many old coal plants have never been cleaned up at all.

The air and water got noticeably cleaner in many places–visible stinks and plumes were greatly reduced–but the harder-to-detect toxins were often still there and in many cases increased as new drugs and chemicals entered commerce without prior testing for harmful effects.

Big polluters–chemical industry polluters, utility polluters, mining polluters, municipal sewage polluters, agricultural polluters ….–built among themselves a belief that polluting was their right, or at least the source of their continuing profits. They, and their organizations such as the Chemical Manufacturers Association, National Association of Manufacturers, United States Chamber of Commerce, American Petroleum Institute, Farm Bureau (actually representing industrial interests, not farmers) along with the state versions of these, launched attacks not only on the environmental laws but on the basic fabric of US democracy.  They set about suborning the integrity of government–especially the courts–educational institutions, the media, and environmental organizations themselves.  They successfully put forward stooge politicians like Ronald Reagan and George Bush.

Justice and democracy have buckled under these attacks.  Many of the mainstream “environmental” NGOs have essentially gone over to the corporate side.  The number of news-gathering organizations in, say, New Castle County, Delaware, have greatly decreased during Green Delaware’s 15-year history.  Comcast, WHYY “unpublic broadcasting,” WILM and WDEL radio, and Gannett’s News Journal have all either shut down or greatly curtailed their news operations.  Canned right-wing propaganda became the main intellectual diet of US residents.

Most notably, global climate change finally became undeniable to rational people as the changes became too obvious to ignore.  So far, though, the response has been mainly a feeding frenzy of special interests from Nuclear power to garbage incineration.

The USA declined from being a world leader in environmental protection to being the main global cause of environmental problems.

Delaware, for practical purposes, has a right-wing Republican governor, Jack Markell, who doesn’t pretend to pay any attention to Delaware’s senile “environmental community.”  Although Markell does almost everything the right-wingers could ask for, they continue to hammer him from the farther-right via propaganda operations such as the “Caesar Rodney Institute.”

A good example of what we have lost is a comparison of 1971, when Governor Russ Peterson marshalled public support for a Coastal Zone Act to keep a refinery out of Delaware, to 2010, when Governor Jack Markell connived with special interests to restart the shut-down Delaware City refinery.  Public participation in this “decision” was zero, Markell’s staff saying something like “we don’t discuss economic development initiatives.”   In 2007, its last year of full operation after extensive clean-up investments, the Delaware City Refinery belched out nearly twenty million pounds of health-damaging air pollutants alone.  As Markell reportedly offered new owners a twenty million dollar bribe (of our money) to reopen the refinery, one could say without too much of a stretch that Markell is paying an old, dirty industry one dollar a pound/year to resume polluting Delaware.

Another instructive example:  The most visible promoter of polluting incinerators in Delaware is now the so-called “Clean Air Council,” which has funding from both Blue Water Wind (owned by NRG) and DNREC.

On the other hand, the Internet has offered new means of organization, communication, and cooperation.  These continue to evolve in unknowable directions.  Old dirty industries are dying, and new, potentially-cleaner ones are emerging.  Around the world, political and economic power are shifting rapidly.  The world’s response to the challenge of climate change in the next few critical years with to a great degree determine the future of humanity.

On the other hand, Delaware has many citizens and legislators who care, and has made some good decisions, as in keeping incineration out.  There is a base to work from.

Growing, vibrant networks of grassroots-based organizations are replacing the senile mainstream of US environmentalism.  Green Delaware is honored to be a part of this.

We could hardly be living and working in more interesting times…..

Alan Muller

Upcoming:  Another lousy recycling bill, SB 234 shuts down container deposit program, rather than fixing it.  NOT good enough.

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