||Enforcement Orders, Finally|
Help Clean The
River and Bay!
2007 - by Rebecca L. Katers
The U.S. EPA and Wisconsin DNR issued orders yesterday requiring six paper companies with mills along the Fox River to site a sediment disposal landfill, prepare the area, site on-shore treatment areas, and to obtain all needed equipment next year. They are also being ordered to start, in 2009, dredging PCB contaminated sediments out of the last 7 miles of the Fox River between the DePere Dam and the mouth of the river. This is 3 years later than the 2006 start promised in the 2003 version of the Fox River cleanup plan.
Someone in government has finally acknowledged publicly that their glorified "voluntary, cooperative approach" isn't working and decades of negotiations with the paper industries aren't going to produce the hoped-for final settlement and division of costs needed to start the cleanup. ( In the most recent effort, the polluters were given until October 1 to reach an agreement and 6 weeks later the governments are finally following through.)
This enforcement decision is 35 years too late.
The DNR first issued a formal public report on the Fox River PCB contamination back in 1972. And though they could have studied and attempted negotiations for a few years then, there has been ZERO justification for waiting 35 years to finally enforce public health protection standards under the law. The state and federal governments had the legal means to take action 35 years ago, but due to the political clout of the paper industry and the corruption of our political leaders, our so-called "regulatory" agencies have been forced to pussy-foot around the issue and beg the polluters to voluntarily provide a solution to the problem. Our agency staff have been forced to grovel for crumbs of support from the polluters. It's an outrage.
The delay allowed tens of thousands of pounds of PCBs to flow down the river into the bay and Lake Michigan, spreading the social, economic and environmental damage much farther than it should have gotten. Because of this, up to 70% of the PCBs in Lake Michigan have come from the Fox River, damaging a four state region.
Many of us argued 22 years ago, during the Remedial Action Plan process, that enforcement needed to start right away and that we needed the federal Superfund law to be applied to provide instant start-up money and stronger enforcement powers. Legal delays would not have delayed the cleanup, because Superfund money could have been used to bridge the gap while the case worked its way through the court system.
But gutless politicians and brainless academics from the University all argued that "command and control" environmental regulation didn't work and that the "new" and "modern" way was the "voluntary, cooperative approach" where agency and community leaders would sit and hold hands with industry at a table and just politely "work things out" in mutually respectful meetings. It was an extremely naive and irresponsible approach, given the hundreds of millions of dollars involved and the urgency of the public health threat. The polluters have used this weakness to maximum advantage, achieving decades of damaging delay. <> They've been laughing all the way to bank.
Meanwhile, an entire generation of children has been born and is now raising its own children in a community with a severely poisoned river and bay. Surveys show that roughly 40,000 people in the region are still consuming unsafe quantities of fish, out of ignorance, economic need, or traditional habits, exposing their families to serious health risks. Because Superfund was never formalized for the Fox River, we never received a proper federal health study to document the extent of public health injuries, a fact that only benefits the polluters.
During all these years, the Green Bay Press Gazette has been an active leader in promoting and defending this weak cooperative approach. The paper has also downplayed the public health issue for years, refusing to report on the extensive medical research documenting PCB health risks. For example, PCBs are now strongly linked to diabetes. Have you seen this in the Press Gazette?
Now, we have the spector of more years of cleanup delays if the polluters choose to fight the government enforcement order in court. The potential for legal delay was used to promote the cooperative approach for many years. We have always argued that the government needed to "get on with it" and start the enforcement immediately because legal battles were inevitable. Better to start NOW, than to wait 30 years to start and STILL have to wade through years of legal wrangling. Worse yet, Superfund is essentially bankrupt now (thanks to the Republicans in Congress in the 1990s) and not available for back-up funding while the legal process drags on. So we lost our best opportunity for action in the 1980s and early 1990s. <>
The irony is that the polluters can't agree now, even though they've been coddled in the extreme for 35 years. They got much of what they wanted but they still aren't satisfied:
1) capping of roughly half the PCBs in the river;The latest delays are just further proof that we need a return to old- fashioned law enforcement. Stop the feel-good "cooperative" nonsense, stop protecting criminal polluters, and get on with the job of protecting public health.
CONTENT BY: Rebecca Leighton Katers
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