Cynical views and policy-maker contacts

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Posted by jd on January 07, 2002 at 15:46:06:

In Reply to: What to do about the polluting of OUR waters? posted by Kerry Grissett on January 06, 2002 at 21:42:38:

Where do I start? I must choose my words and topics carefully because I do not have time to touch on all the accusations, some true and some false, that I have seen on the NAFF.

If you do not have interest or time to read this, but want to join the crusade to "make some noise," I suggest contacting the Alabama Policy Institute. Their web site can be found at They specialize in representing the people's interests and negotiating with legislature to make a change.

I choose not to join a “lynch mob” or go on a “witch hunt” until I am satisfied that I know the real issues. Yes, a squeaky wheel gets greased, but a broken wheel gets replaced. I know that no one really wants to hear about me, but I must give some explanation as to why I am so cynical and a little reserved.

Since you asked, Kerry, I can call myself an “environmental engineer” if I choose. I have a BS in mechanical engineering and wanted to build rockets and spaceships when I first got out of school. Then, President Clinton took office and decided we were spending too much on aerospace and defense and wanted to spend more on the environment. With the flip of a switch and a change of seats in the White House, I saw several families displaced in Huntsville. I knew an engineer that was in his mid to late 50’s that was driving a courtesy van at a local dealership when the political forces swept through the nation in 1993. I believe the Huntsville Times once reported that nearly 5,000 engineers were out of work in Huntsville in 1994 (but don’t quote me on that). This is when I thought I would jump on the wagon and go back to school. I then got a master’s degree in civil engineering with an environmental emphasis, focusing on water and wastewater treatment. I am no expert, and I know just enough to make me dangerous. I grew up in north Alabama and spend many years down on The Plains getting “edumucated” before moving to Atlanta for three years to work as an environmental consultant. I moved to Atlanta mainly because Alabama does not have many pollution problems when compared to an overcrowded place like Atlanta residing on a small river. Since the beginning of modern time, mankind has lived on rivers to get rid of pollution. Around 1700 in London, at the Broadstreet pump, people began to learn the consequence of living downstream from pollution sources when cholera broke out and they figured out that water could carry disease due to the sewage that was being dumped upstream from where the Broadstreet pump was drawing water. I thought I would throw in a little water pollution trivia. :)

I am now back home in north Alabama, but not working as an environmental engineer, but as a mechanical engineer. This is probably due to the fact that Bush is (again) in charge and we are spending money on defending our country. I am once again a government contractor just like so many people in Huntsville. Huntsville is again a boom town with memories of unemployment and family hardships a thing of the past for many. And all for the price of what? Supposedly, “to spend money on the environment.” According to opinions taken on the NAFF lately, I don’t think many people would say that the environment has improved much since Clinton and Gore were in office for the last 8 years. I have no opinion because I don’t know the real statistical facts. My guess is that things have been improving since the 1970’s when most of the damage associated with DDT, PCBs, mercury, petroleum products, and dry-cleaning fluids had already been done.

I am a cynic because I fear that the solution will come with problems no matter what choices are made. Take farmers for example. I come from a farming ancestry, just like many people from Alabama, and I respect their kind. Everybody has to make a living and modern chemicals have made many things in our lives much better. We all know that the chemical companies tell us that their chemicals cause no problems. Based on experience with Big Tobacco, we also know that proof of carcinogenic effects is difficult to say the least. Anyways, if we regulate farmers, think about how many families will be affected. It is not a matter of passing the buck to consumers. This new “world economy” and regulation such as NAFTA may force many people into bankruptcy without regulation. Government subsidies and crop “price guarantees” are perhaps the only things saving farmers from bankruptcy during times of bad weather and economics. Many companies, particularly metal industries, are already moving business to Mexico to be able to compete in the market. As humans, should we condone pollution in other places in the world too? Did you know that our government spends millions of dollars in studies in other countries to figure out how to clean up pollution problems? The justification is that the studies will be conducted by American companies and possibly result in demand for American pollution control equipment and engineering. This is supposed to stimulate our economy. This is funded by the U.S. Trade and Development Agency (TDA). The more I learn, the more I realize that I really have no idea where my tax dollars are REALLY being spent.

Let me just state what I think I know.

1. I know that WE in Alabama are blessed to have some of the most abundant natural resources in the world. I have a 49 page booklet entitled “Guidelines for Eating Fish from Georgia Waters” that is full of mostly tables regarding species and rivers with restrictions on consumption. Almost every advisory is related to mercury or PCB. The problem is that the food chain keeps these persistent pollutants present. Shellfish and organisms at the bottom of the food chain often clean up the environment. Then, fish eat these creatures and they bioaccumulate the pollutants. Big fish eat little fish, and things eat dead fish, and fish eat the things… and therefore, many of the pollutants persist. How do you clean this up? Kill all the fish? Work is in progress in many places to clean up groundwater to prevent the diffusion of further pollution laden leachate into surface water. Oh yeah, I think we all learned a lot about storing gasoline in steel buried tanks that rust in the past century. Also, dumping dry-cleaning fluids out the back door has caused many, many persistent nightmares. I think many people would be surprised how many sites have been classified as “polluted” and entered into a database. I will criticize regulatory agencies for sometimes moving too slowly once a problem has been identified. I sometimes think it may be their inability to provide solutions. However, if they are too stringent, companies and property owners may have to file bankruptcy and then the site is added to a growing list of “to do” projects with no funding available at the state level.

2. “…nothing more than "advisories" are what we get from the authorities (EPA)…” Hmmmm…. I am not sure this is true. I can’t recall the name, but an engineering company in town has been awarded millions of dollars to begin remediation of Redstone Arsenal (RSA). Many studies have been conducted for several years now. I don’t know all the facts here. As I recall, RSA may have been listed as a “superfund” site which means it is on a federal priority list. I am sure you can find this list, but I have never looked. Keywords would be “superfund” and “SARA” and “remediation.” SARA is the Superfund Authorization and Reauthorization Act. I will not go into this regulation because I am not sure that my Clean Water Act 101 lecture was fully read or understood. Other regulations work similarly in the regard that it is often the responsibility of the State, not necessarily the EPA, to enforce remediation. It really depends on the nature and magnitude of the problem.

I could go on forever, but the more I type, the more people will fall asleep and stop reading. I believe I know just the experts that may be able to help. The Alabama Policy Institute claims to be a “non-profit, non-partisan research and education organization.” From what I have gathered, they research issues most important to The People of Alabama and meet with legislators to get things changed. Also, their web site has a contact number for every Alabama good ol’ boy you could ever think of including e-mails and even home phone numbers. They publish a bulletin called “Environmental Indicators” which must be getting old (2000), because it is no longer listed on their web site. I am sure a quick email to the Institute could get you a copy, or I can scan and email if you would like. I am not going to tell you what it says, because it will appear that it supports MY opinion which is not true. Visit for more info. Their main objective seems to be to get advocates for reform on the wagon, so I bet they will be happy to hear from anyone in this group.

As long as Kerry allows the NAFF to continue “political discussion” related to environmental issues, I will try to post important facts and info in the future as I learn more about the true roots of the problem. I promise to TRY and keep future posts to less than a few hundred words. Hehe. If anyone would like to email me, I will try to help by pointing in the general direction. But, I don’t think writing comprehensive textbooks on environmental reform is my forte. I am not only too inexperienced, but I can’t remain objective when the subject involves politics and government reform. The government is sometimes analogous to a big sponge - you kick it and nothing happens.

Most importantly for the sake of enjoying the finer things in life - I need help with fishing too, so let us not forget about the fishing reports as the weather begins to improve! ;)


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