California to New York

california to new yorkWe certainly have enough naysayers in the environmental field – critics of legislators and bashers of regulators; bloggers on superfunding, fracking and petrochemicals in general. Writers are ensured of sympathy from a public now saturated with the environmental ideal. Of course if you have dedicated your lifelong career to the nuts-and-bolts of a clean earth, whether on the review side or the proposal side, it all begins to sound like so much peanut-gallery palaver.

I recently noted a six-month study of California’s Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) by Consumer Watchdog.* In a profound example of public flagellation, they concluded that:

“…it is clear that the DTSC is falling down on the job. We have some of the toughest environmental laws in the nation, and some of the weakest enforcement. The DTSC epitomizes this problem, allowing serial polluters to cut deals with the department out of court time and again instead of revoking their permits, letting polluters operate on expired permits for years at a time, and levying wrist-slap penalties instead of applying maximum fines. The DTSC sits on its hands while hazardous waste management companies and large-scale generators of hazardous waste poison communities.”

Pretty stong words based on a 6-month review. Let us ignore for a moment that the very foundations of reason (remember logic’s rule of thumb: if this, then that) have been ignored here to reach the most extreme conclusion. Let us accept for a moment that one state at least is hopelessly mired in financial interests. What would it mean for New York State, where this author lives and works? Perhaps we could do a 6-month study, and conclude we have some of the “weakest” environmental laws, with some of the “toughest” enforcement.

Sorry, but such broad-brush statements and foregone conclusions are anathema to me, having cut my teeth and been raised on the meat of rational environmental reporting.

Let me say simply that the balance of economic interests and environmental ideals is never simple, and in consequence it is not the stuff of simpletons. You have only to look at election-year debating to understand that we all share economic (if not survival) interests, and we all share quality-of-life (fresh air and clean water) concerns.

Healthy business brings us groceries each day and lumber for that bedroom addition; a healthy environment guarantees our children a healthy life. The decisions that balance both economics and environment are brought about sometimes by extreme soul-searching, sometimes by dead reckoning, sometimes after years of Environmental Impact Analysis, but always by an excruciating process of give-and-take.

Try it sometime. The next time you are tempted to express a critical view, instead step into the lion’s den yourself. Participate in the process. You can guarantee that a balanced view is the end result, because you are indeed a part of the problem, and you are a part of the solution.

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