Like the Vichy French police official Louis in Casablanca who was "Shocked! I tell you, shocked!" to discover gambling at Rick's Place (while pocketing his winnings), the strategy of Governor Jack Markell, the rest of Delaware's "major party" politicians, the Editorial Board of the Wilmington News Journal, and our so-called "corporate leadership" has been to pretend that the discovery of pollution in the First State is the fault of . . . Delaware citizens.
More to the point, it is Delaware citizens who are going to be hit with a $700,000,000 bill for a multi-year clean-up--the overwhelming majority of which will find its way into the hands of the same corporations who dumped toxic chemicals into our air and water for years.
THIS is the famed "Delaware Way."
I'm going to lay it out for you. It will be long and it will be unlovely, and I will take no prisoners.
I'm not ready to get into finding (and funding) the solutions yet, because we cannot do either until we are honest about who caused the problems and we get those responsible away from the decision-making process for the clean-up.
If we don't, the state's major polluters (which include, by the way, both our major corporations AND our state/local governments) will simply pocket hundreds of millions more of our tax dollars without ever dealing with the problem.
So here goes.
Part One: Denial and cover-up
First, let's look at what Governor Markell said in his recent State of the State address (his fifth, and the one in which he suddenly discovered that Delaware has a pollution problem):
Look specifically at our waterways. Water is the foundation of our tourism industry. It’s vital to agriculture, manufacturing, and everything that we do.
Yet a century of pollution has impaired nearly every waterway in our state. While we have significantly reduced air pollution and cleaned up brownfields, far too many streams remain unsafe, as Senator Lopez keeps reminding us.
We can’t eat our fish from the St. Jones. We can’t swim in too many parts of the Inland Bays. The Christina and Brandywine rivers are laced with toxic pollutants.
This is embarrassing. This is unacceptable. We must change it.
This won’t be easy or cheap – but it is achievable. We must upgrade wastewater and drinking water plants and improve stormwater infrastructure. And we must use cutting-edge technologies to remove toxic substances, like we are doing right outside this building at Mirror Lake thanks to the strong advocacy of Senator Bushweller.
To work toward these goals, next month, I will propose the Clean Water for Delaware’s Future Initiative. The goal of this initiative is to clean up our waterways within a generation. Some much faster than that.
In our time, this will create jobs. In our kids’ time, we will revitalize communities across our state. We owe future generations clean water. It’s that simple.
Now please notice several items:
1. Water pollution in Delaware is a problem because it is a problem for our tourism industry, our agriculture industry, and our manufacturing industry, not because of cancer clusters or the quality of life of Delaware citizens or the damage done to plant and animal life.
2. Water pollution--"a century of pollution"--just sort of happened. Nobody is to blame. Nobody is to be held accountable. Shit happens, and it happens immaculately in our waterways. It would be not just improbable but physically impossible for Governor Markell's lips to form the sentence, "Extreme pollution in Delaware exists in large measure because too often the government has crawled into bed with the State's worst corporate polluters."
3. The clean-up "will create jobs." You're going to see that line again. It is important because it is code for, "The clean-up will funnel hundreds of millions of dollars right back into the coffers of the corporations who created the pollution in the first place." You have got to love the definition of SUSTAINABILITY in Delaware, where sustainability is the never-ending opportunity for corporations to benefit both from polluting the environment and from pretending to clean it up.
4. "This won't be easy or cheap" is also code for, "This will be paid for by Delaware taxpayers because this State never has and never will have the stones to make the entities that polluted the water pay for it."
Now, let's take a look at what Markell administration heavies are out saying in today's WNJ:
"The time has come to have dedicated resources over a multiyear plan to actually put the projects on the ground that we know are necessary," said Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control Secretary Collin P. O'Mara, "and then to try to accelerate those projects on a time frame that allows us to see the benefit in our lifetime and also puts a bunch of folks to work right now."
Notice the recurring themes here: (1) no discussion of HOW we got into this mess or any accountability for those who allowed the situation to occur; (2) Delaware taxpayers will have to pay for it ("dedicated resources"); (3) "puts a bunch of folks to work right now"--jobs, jobs, jobs [but if the experience of Delaware superfund clean-ups is any guide, many of those jobs will go to out-of-state companies who will bring in their own equipment and their own skilled employees].
Somebody really ought to explain Frederick Bastiat's "broken window fallacy" to Jack Markell and Colin O-Meara.
Next, notice how the
Wilmington Daily Markell, oops the Wilmington News Journal picks up the echo that the primary blame for this environmental crisis is not our leaders--political or corporate--but the citizens of Delaware:
We are living with a legacy of environmental damage. Delawareans' habits of yesteryear were not kind to the soils and waters we want to leave for our grandchildren. But yesterday is not the only problem.
Notice the code words again: "Delawareans' habits of yesteryear"--that's you and me who were apparently responsible for not reigning in Metchem or DuPont when they were busy dumping chemicals most of us cannot spell into our waterways.
If we are serious about not just cleaning up our waterways, but holding the people and institutions accountable who polluted them, then the first thing we have to do is challenge Governor Markell's toxic narrative about how this all happened.
Until we do that, nothing else matters, and our tax dollars will continue to swirl (along with PCBs) down corporate rat holes and you still won't be able to drink, fish in, or swim in our water.
2. Acknowledging reality.
Delaware's water pollution reached the point of complete systemic toxicity due to (1) deep and continuous failures on the part of our elected leaders; and (2) willful, consistent pollution by crony corporatists who have profited from government benevolence for decades.
Cases in point:
A. Delaware (the second smallest State in the nation) currently has 19 EPA Superfund-designated clean-up sites. For our size, only New Jersey has a greater concentration per square mile.
B. This is the current list, because it doesn't include the ones that have been finished, or the ones under contemplation. When you add those, the list blooms up to forty-six sites, and we edge out even New Jersey for the crown.
C. On the New York Times 2009 list of major water polluters in Delaware, there are forty polluters who between them have notched 699 polluted water discharge violations between them from about 2006-2009. Of those forty entities, only one--the Lewes Sewage Treatment Plant--has ever paid a fine for its violations. Oh, and of those forty entities, eighteen are owned by the government [Federal, State, or local]. That's right, nearly half of the entities in Delaware cited for water pollution violations are owned by the government. No wonder they don't pay. By the way, the worst offender in terms of total number of violations (104) is the Laurel Sewage Treatment Plant. Other fascinating names on the list include Amtrak (38 violations), DuPont Pigments (28 violations), the Greenville Country Club (15 violations), City of Wilmington Pollution Control (5 violations), and Winterthur Museum (2 violations). By the way, the State of Delaware (thank you Governor Markell and Secretary O-Meara) refused to provide a comment to the New York Times on this issue. Wonder why?
D. Delaware's regulatory system is so hopelessly compromised by industry insiders that even Delaware Today takes notice:
It may be a Sisyphusian task, environmentalists say, but officials could do a lot more. “The major threat is lack of meaningful enforcement,” says John Flaherty, former executive director of Common Cause of Delaware. “It’s not an environmental issue. It’s more of an accountability issue. We need to have our laws enforced for the benefit of the people, not special interests.”
There simply aren’t enough enforcers, according to a January 30 article in The News Journal. The story reported that 18 of 75 positions in the DNREC air quality management program are unfilled, and that the 24 percent staff shortage is much greater than those at other “notoriously” under-staffed state agencies, “including the Delaware Psychiatric Center and Department of Correction.”
What’s more, the panel that oversees funding of the program—generated from fees for smokestack permits—is dominated by industry representatives. The panel has opposed fees that would pay for the program, and panel members have suggested their plants might leave the state if smokestack fees are increased.
“An old-time ballplayer once said, ‘I cheat fair and square.’ Well, you can’t blame the players for cheating. You have to blame the umpire,” Flaherty says. “[Polluters] want to cheat fair and square using whatever political pull they can. I don’t blame them for trying that. I blame our state officials for succumbing to that.”
A more detailed industry case study would be our poultry industry, which is one of the region's major polluters. Read what Pew has to say about how the industry itself has successfully fought against any state regulation for years:
“Big Chicken” describes the emergence of concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and the environmental impact of this industrial-scale production. The process creates massive amounts of broiler litter, the mix of manure and bedding taken out of the CAFO. Growers typically dispose of litter by spreading it on open fields or cropland, but when it is over-applied or poorly managed, rain washes it into streams and rivers, causing significant water-quality problems.
A case in point is the Chesapeake Bay, which is infused with excess nutrients generated by broiler litter from the adjacent Delmarva Peninsula. Maryland and Delaware alone produce roughly 523 million chickens a year, along with an estimated 42 million cubic feet of litter—enough to fill the U.S. Capitol dome nearly 50 times annually, or almost once a week.
“The environmental consequences of the broiler business’s explosive growth are especially profound in the Chesapeake Bay, one of the nation’s most important, scenic and threatened bodies of water,” said Robert Martin, an expert on industrial animal agriculture reform at the Pew Environment Group. “Instead of working to limit the effects of all this chicken waste, the industry has fought to avoid responsibility for cleaning up one of our national treasures.”
And yet, fully aware of this, Governor Markell's administration not only turns a blind eye toward it, but awards companies like Perdue and Mountaire millions of dollars in state subsidies.
Around Wilmington, research has shown that some of the region's top industries also rank as some of the worst water polluters in the 13,000 square mile Delaware River watershed, and significant contributors to toxic contamination that led to fish consumption warnings.
During the past decade, studies tagged Amtrak's heavy locomotive shops in Wilmington as the far-and-away largest source of PCB contamination from stormwater runoff. The same research tagged the now-bankrupt and abandoned Standard Chlorine Metachem chlorinated benzene plant near Delaware City – once the world's largest producer of some pesticide and insecticide ingredients – as the top discharger of PCB-laced wastewater.
Other plants, including DuPont's Edge Moor pigment factory, also were found to be PCB culprits.
DuPont, by the way, also receives millions in taxpayer-funded subsidies and tax rebates.
But wait, go back and look: the worst source of PCB contamination from stormwater run-off in the State is . . . Amtrak? You mean the company we just built a brand spanking new railroad station for in downtown Wilmington? Gee, you mighta thunk it would have been a better use of our tax dollars to clean up PCB run-off first and limp along with the old station for another decade, but no . . .
Because jobs. And Joe Biden.
When you get right down to it, our elected officials--Democrat and Republican alike--have consistently not just refused to deal with environmental harm in Delaware, not just consistently failed to enforce existing laws, not just looked the other way while their corporate donors dumped tons and tons of cancer-causing crap into our waterways--they also kept funneling more state money into those corporations for jobs, jobs, jobs . . .
In other words, our leaders rewarded them for polluting by handing them more tax dollars.
And now it is our problem to fix.
Yes, that's both right and wrong. It is our problem to fix, because it is our water and air that is increasingly toxic.
But under what logic do you ask the same people--politicians, administrators, corporations--who knowingly created this disaster not only to fix it, but to (reluctantly) accept hundreds of millions more of our tax dollars while they are doing say.
Because the Delaware Way.
Because you vote Democrat and Republican and won't even consider that it doesn't matter: these folks worked together to make our water undrinkable, unfishable, and unswimmable.
Maybe we have met the enemy and he is us, at least if we are stupid enough to continue doing the same thing over and