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Where are the arrests?

Lead Summary

By Jim Thompson
Exiled In Georgia

If one listens to the environmentalists, you would think we were going to be asphyxiated or poisoned by next week.

Can there be rare exceptions where they are correct? Of course. After all, most pollution, whether in the air or the water, is caused by humankind and it is up to humankind to control it. Mistakes can happen.

However, we have reached the point where the mistakes are few and far between, especially in countries with tight regulations such as the United States.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was proposed by President Richard Nixon. After Congress passed the appropriate laws, it began operation on Dec. 2, 1970, over 41 years ago. However, regulations were in effect long before then.

The first national air pollution control act dates from 1955. The first national water pollution control act dates from 1948. Other acts related to land use, endangered species and hazardous waste all existed before the EPA as well.

There is not an industrial smokestack or effluent discharge in this country that is not controlled, monitored and the results reported to the state EPA in coordination with the US EPA. This even extends to some commercial businesses. Ask any dry cleaner, gas station, or body shop what their regulatory reporting requirements are. Be prepared to hang around for a couple of hours.

And when I say every stack and every pipe, I mean every single one. Drive by an automobile assembly plant with a hundred vents sticking out the top. Every one of those is identified and has its own monitoring history. Look at a tall smokestack at one of the power plants down on the Ohio River. See those ladders and platforms way up in the air? They are not for seeing the sights – that is where the testing is done through ports in the side of the stack.

The EPA has real teeth to enforce their standards. Every "excursion" (a discharge outside allowed limits) has to be reported promptly – depending on the state, depending on the severity – usually within 24 hours. Fines can be assessed, orders can be given to make certain changes within a defined period of time.

About 30 years ago, it was decided mere money was not enough. The U.S. EPA was given the power to jail the top executive on any industrial site which does not comply with EPA requirements. This is serious stuff, folks.

More importantly – have you ever heard of an arrest on these charges? I haven't, either.

Don't you think environmental advocacy groups would make sure this made national news if an arrest was ever made? I do.

So, why are you told such and such a company is a polluter? The first reason is ignorance. Google "paper mill pollution" and you will see pages of pictures. If you look at the modern pictures, you will see what looks like white plumes all over the place. This is water vapor. If this is pollution, your tea kettle is a polluter, too.

Why do I know this? It helps to have worked in the pulp and paper industry for nearly 40 years and also to know one little fact: In the process of making paper, you evaporate as much water by weight as paper you make; it is basic to the process. In other words, to make a ton of paper, you have to evaporate a ton of water.

Back to the power plants along the Ohio River. Forty years ago you would not have seen those very tall cooling towers (the huge conical concrete structures). In those days, the power plants brought in the river for cooling purposes. Some of the big ones brought in as much as half of the river.

From Pittsburgh to Paducah, so many power plants were built that the river warmed up, by about 20 degrees Fahrenheit on average. It was great for the fish population, but was deemed unnatural. So the power plants were forced to spend millions building the cooling towers. The fish population dropped to former levels and the river started freezing over again in the winter.

But I saved the best for last. The real reason you are told industry is still polluting like crazy is to keep the environmental advocacy groups in business. The fact of the matter is, they have done such a great job of lobbying Congress that their work is done. But what to do?

These people have no idea how to go out and get a productive job. They must stay in business in order to eat. So, year by year, their message becomes more shrill and less factual, not because conditions are bad and getting worse, but because they have no idea what to do if victory is declared on the environmental scene.

It is time to declare victory.

Jim Thompson is a columnist for The Highland County Press. He is a graduate of Hillsboro High School and a former resident of Marshall. He now lives near Atlanta, Ga.

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