- WEB EXCLUSIVE
- PE COFFEEHAUS
The EPA began a project named Documerica that ran from 1971 to 1977. The project hired photographers from around the country to take photos of towns, people, the environment, etc. in order to document the state of the country. Some of the photos were used in congressional hearings and helped to motivate the adoption of many environmental laws such as the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and so on.
In honor of Earth Day 2012 (April 22), the Associated Press sent out a team of photographers to some of the sites captured in photos in the Documeria archives to see what the areas looked like now.
According to the news report, the billowing clouds of smoke from industrial chimneys are gown. Raw sewerage no longer flows freely into rivers. The garbage strewn beaches and roadsides are not there.
Presidential candidate Mitt Romney has been quoted in the news as calling for EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to be fired. His rival, Newt Gingrich was quoted to have said that the EPA should be replaced. I am not sure just what that means but I suspect he wants the agency to refocus their efforts.
The thing is that the EPA has done a tremendous job in cleaning up America. One of the original purposes of the Documerica project was to show the doubters that there was an obvious problem that needed to be addresses sooner rather than later. However, no company wanted to be the first to even admit there was a problem let alone take any costly steps to improve. So the data convinced the Congress and the Acts were passed. The EPA took on the challenge of changing laws into regulations and setting up enforcement systems.
Business operates in order to make money. That is their purpose. In addition, they need to make certain margins according to their business plan. When a business becomes public, they are under pressure to increase the bottom lines year over year or they are considered failures. That also means that the managers are constantly on the lookout to cut costs. While some environmental actions have resulted in new revenue streams, many times they are simply a cost to burden the company. Unfortunately, there are still too many managers who believe that if they cannot see a problem that it does not exist. How many times have we read about a product recall due to faulty materials. We all know that someone knew about the fault and a decision was made to ship the materials anyway.
Right now, the government has slapped the public in the face so many times that there is no trust. How many times have the politicians discussed an issue and the people thought they understood the proposal only to have the final version seem to be at complete odds with the final product.
Let me provide an example of what I am writing about. Many years ago in Michigan, they wanted to start a lottery. The public was against it and defeated the issue. It came back and the public was told that the money raised would be spent on education, which would improve the schools and lower property taxes. But after the lottery was passed, the schools did not get an increase in funding. The politician insisted that they did just what the said they would do. So, the way it really worked was that all the money from the lottery was placed into a general fund account. The school dollars were taken from that account. In the past, the politicians had to budget so much money to go to schools. So they decided that the increase from the lottery could be offset by lowering their budgeted money and using that somewhere else so the schools actually got the same amount of money, which also means the property taxes could not be lowered.
Such liberties are standard operating procedure for many if not most politicians today. After all, the phrase, “it is just politics” is repeated often to cover up what most of us would term as a lie. It is not wonder that we have trust issues.
The problem is that we need the EPA to continue to solve environmental issues. Not all problems are directly visible. Sometimes we can only find them after a statistical analysis. Some business people need to be convinced that they have a problem that needs to be addressed. On the other hand, we do not need to go outlandish extremes that some regulators try to foster.
I have another example. I was negotiating a cleanup for a site in southern Michigan. The problem was a clause written into the part about what fill material that I could use after the excavation was completed. If memory serves me, the control authority wanted me to use a natural fill or the fill material had to meet certain analytical characteristics. The material I had picked out passed in all except the copper levels. The levels specified were below background. So, when we met, I pointed out that the levels were below background and they pretty much said so what. I replied that according to their rules, I could truck down fill materials from the Upper Peninsula, which had natural copper levels that were twice as high as our background and that would be okay. The response was, yes because it is natural soil. We ended up going to the next level of management because there would never be a meeting of the minds in that case.