Examiner Editorials and Cheap Seats from the past
Much Ado About Next to Nothing
By Rich Trzupek
The following letter was sent to Senators Richard Durbin and Barack Obama, courtesy of your humble correspondent. No response is expected, but it sure feels good to vent.
Dear Senators Durbin and Obama,
The open letter, which will appear in all eight editions of The Examiner on Aug. 8, has been written in regard to the controversy surrounding BP Amoco's Whiting, Indiana refinery. You have both expressed grave reservations about the project and I would hope you would be willing to share your concerns with our readers.
Before posing some questions, I should familiarize you with The Examiner and me. The Examiner serves eight northwest Chicago suburbs: Bartlett, St. Charles, Streamwood, South Elgin, Carol Stream, Campton Hills, Hanover Park and Wayne. Our total circulation is over 46,000 households.
I have been a columnist for The Examiner for over seven years. Journalism is, however, a sideline. I am a chemist by degree and have been employed as an environmental professional for over 20 years. In that capacity, I have lectured on environmental topics at several universities and have authored an environmental handbook, published by McGraw-Hill. I hope you will agree that I am qualified to discuss the BP issue, and I am pleased that I have a forum to do so publicly.
With that out of the way, let us move to the issue at hand. Both of you have joined the chorus of voices decrying the BP project and the waste water discharges to Lake Michigan associated with it. You claim that the increase in ammonia and solids discharged represent a serious threat to the environment and to the people who utilize this precious resource. I am not, of course, using your exact words here, but I hope you will agree that I am conveying the spirit of your concerns.
As an environmental professional I am curious: how did you reach these conclusions? Surely you are aware that the regulatory system in this country allows for these types of increases, in isolated instances, when such increases are tied to increased industrial activity. BP is certainly not the first, nor the last, company to apply for and receive permission to increase its wastewater discharge within the context of stringent state and federal guidelines.
And I would hope that you realize that an isolated discharge increase does not relate to an overall, lake-wide increase. There are other factors at work. Plants shut down. Regulatory standards get tighter. The entire regulatory system, as a whole, is designed to ensure that water quality continues to improve.
That system has been enormously effective. Do you deny this? Do you not recognize that fair, yet strict, application of this regulatory plan has resulted in a tremendous reduction in air and water pollution over the past 30 years, since the original Clean Air and Clean Water Acts were passed? Have you seen the data? EPA makes these records available to the public. Did you review it before you spoke?
Why did this project, designed to increase domestic energy production grab your attention? BP is, after all, one of thousands of permit holders in the Lake Michigan states. In Cook County, Illinois alone, 699 industrial sources hold similar permits, along with 162 water systems. BP is not the largest source of wastewater discharges into the lake, nor is it the only source to ask for an increase.
So why, I wonder, does this particular project trouble you so? The obvious answer seems to be: prurient, political self-interest. But, giving you the benefit of the doubt, perhaps it's merely ignorance. In the interests of fairness, I would like to ask you to answer the following specific questions for our readers:
1.) EPA tracks and regulates hundreds of water pollutants and ranks the ones that are of concern for a specific body of water. Where do the two pollutants the BP proposes to increase, ammonia and solids, rank in this hierarchy?
2.) How do BP's discharges of ammonia and solids compare to naturally occurring levels in Lake Michigan?
3.) How do BP's discharges of ammonia and solids compare to other sources, including industrial, water systems and agricultural runoff?
4.) How has water quality in Lake Michigan changed in the last 30 years, and in the last 10 years?
5.) How have discharge limits changed in the last 10 years? Have they grown more stringent, and resulted in an overall decrease in water pollution discharges, or have they gotten more liberal and resulted in an overall increase?
I do not, of course, expect you to actually answer any of these specific questions. The answers would undoubtedly be too embarrassing. I rather expect you will provide our readers with canned rhetoric that sounds good, but says nothing, or-more likely-that you will ignore this letter altogether. There is no political advantage to be gained by actually diving into the details.
Allow me to head-off one criticism: I do not, nor have ever, worked as a paid consultant to BP Amoco. My interests involve equity, not profit.
You will both continue to claim to be statesmen. You will say that you are protecting the public.
I believe that you, and many others, are doing quite the opposite in this case. You are encouraging irrational fear and ignorance, instead of standing up for reason. You are undermining a system that has--whether you can admit it or not--been tremendously effective in improving the quality of our environment. You have, in short, let your constituents down, and I for one think that's a shame.
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The Problem With Big Green
By Rich Trzupek
When I wrote about the BP-Amoco controversy, as has been the case when I have been on the industry-side of an issue before, some people speculated that I had been paid by BP for my opinion. And that's fine. Not true, but there are people who think solely in those terms and nobody's going to change their mind.
Yet, for those who wonder why this kind of issue troubles me so, the answer is simple: because my dad was a steelworker.
Walter Trzupek worked at the mills in Northwest Indiana for over 30 years, sweating and straining to pay for the health and schooling of six rambunctious kids. He sacrificed a lot, and I saw it every time he dragged himself home in the morning after pulling a midnight shift, beat to hell, covered with the grime of the mills.
His is not a unique story. There are millions of men and women doing the same thing, every day, in the nation's steel mills, food plants, automobile factories, refineries and hundreds of other places that produce not just a product, not just profit, but a living for the people who depend on them.
When I look at an issue like BP-Amoco, I don't see a big oil company. Frankly, I couldn't care less about how much money a multi-billion dollar conglomerate makes or doesn't make. It's not about the board room, it's about the factory floor and all of those Walter Trzupeks out there, trying to make a living.
They are the people who wrestle with this monster that we have created called environmental regulation. It's the plant engineer, the EHS specialist and the shift supervisor, who scratch their heads and try to figure out exactly how to comply with each and every part of the rules. It's a maddening task. They want to do the right thing Ñthey're desperately trying to do the right thingÑif only they could figure out what the right thing is.
Those are the people I work with, and I have enormous respect for them. They're not cigar-smoking robber barons, gleefully polluting the world. They're ordinary Joes and Josephines. If they smoke a cigar, it's down at the local pub on dollar draft night.
When they manage to figure out the right thing, when they get through that dizzying maze of regulations and design a project that will comply with all of them, they should be applauded, not vilified. Yet, somehow, politicians like Rahm Emanuel and Mark Kirk can turned a blind eye to their efforts and say that complying with the rules isn't good enough. And why isn't it good enough? Because they work for Big Oil? What happened to equal application of the law?
We shouldn't be nearly as concerned about Big Oil these days as we should be about Big Green. Who is Big Green? It's the multi-million dollar environmental corporations that traffic in fear, hysteria and distortion. It's the Environmental Defense Fund, the National Resources Defense Council and the Sierra Club. These organizations have grown into monsters as large as many a corporation, and they are far more dangerous, forÑas cases like BP's clearly demonstrateÑthey are rarely put under the media's microscope.
Does Big Green do some good? Sure. But the damage they do far outweighs that good. One can, and should, admire many a small, grass roots environmental group. We see them in our communities all the time, cleaning up the parks, removing debris from the creek, protecting green space. Those are wonderful things, the kind of activity that we used to call "conservation."
Big Green is something different. Big Green is about much more than grass-roots conservation. Big Green operates huge propaganda factories, and their product is panic. Panic has enormous value. It's a product that sells and ensures that donations keep rolling in.
Think about it. We have made enormous strides at cleaning up our air and waterways for over 35 years. Have you ever heard Big Green talk about those massive reductions? Have they ever taken a moment to say: "good job everybody, look at all the progress we've made together!" They can't say that. They won't say that. It would devalue their product too much. Everyone must be kept in a constant state of fear.
That's all the BP project is about. In reality, nobody's life is in danger. Nobody's drinking water is threatened. Hell, last Thursday the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District discharged over 1.6 million pounds of solids and ammonia into Lake Michigan, based on their own data, and Big Green didn't say a word. They shouldn't haveÑfor it's really no big dealÑbut doesn't that make you wonder why they attack the BP project so viciously? BP discharges the same stuff, but their couple thousand pounds a day is somehow "dangerous."
There would be no profit for Big Green in raising the alarm bell over a massive discharge that was ultimately fueled by mother nature. To do so would make Big Green look silly. But there's enormous profit to made out of attacking BP. So they crank up the assembly line and churn out the panic as fast as they can make it, whenever BP is mentioned.
And, in the end, the people who get hurt the most are all the men and women who work their butts off to try to make a living and comply with the law while they do it.
I see my father in everyone of them, and I think to myself: Big Green, you owe a lot of people one hell of an apology.
On the Web: www.trzupek.com
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Shutting up those darn statistics
By Rich Trzupek
A classic “Peanuts” cartoon features Charlie Brown and Lucy discussing the end of the baseball season. Charlie Brown is exuberant, extolling the virtues of his team. Lucy? Not so much. She proceeds to quote the damning data, which indicates that their team did not win a single game, barely got a hit and, all in all, was pretty much an insult to the national pastime. Charlie Brown considers all of this for a moment, before uttering the immortal words: “tell your statistics to shut up.”
Several decades later, in the middle of a “summer” during which the thermometer has rarely poked past eighty degrees on the Fahrenheit scale, much less ninety, those six words are still relevant. They sum up the attitude of the global-warming fanatics, who are absolutely certain that mankind is causing the planet to boil over, despite the lack of actual evidence to prove the proposition. “Tell your statistics to shut up” indeed.
A story that hit the press – okay, part of the press, since CNN and the rest of sheeple who make up the mainstream media wouldn’t touch this one with a ten foot windmill – a couple of weeks ago made it clear that the United States Environmental Protection Agency is in full shut the hell up with your damned statistics mode.
If you missed it, here’s the story in a nutshell. A USEPA staffer, Alan Carlin, Senior Operations Research Analyst at USEPA’s National Center for Environmental Economics (NCEE), put a paper together that questioned (horrors!) global-warming theory, as commonly presented and accepted in politically correct crowds.
Carlin said, in an e-mail that accompanied his study, that “the critical attribute of good science is its correspondence to observable data rather than where it appears in the technical literature.” He goes on to point out that the new studies “explain much of the observational data that have been collected which cannot be explained by the IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change) models.”
Translation: the IPCC models, which form the entire basis for global warming hysteria, do not correspond, and have not ever corresponded, to actual, real-world, observed data. There is, in other words, absolutely no evidence to suggest that the doomsday models bear any relation to reality.
Yet global warming is a matter of faith, not science, and the e-mail back from Carlin’s superior, one Al McGartland, Office Director of NCEE, reflects the fact that heresy will not be tolerated in our new hopey-changey era.
“The time for such discussion of fundamental issues has passed for this round,” McGarland wrote back. “The administrator and the administration has decided to move forward on endangerment (that is, human-caused global warming), and your comments do not help the legal or policy case for this decision… I can only see one impact of your comments given where we are in the process, and that would be a very negative impact on our office.”
Translation: tell your statistics to shut up.
The global-warming fanatics were quick to fire back, naturally, once this exchange came to light. Carlin, they sniffed, is an economist – what could he possibly know? And those studies that he quotes in his paper? Those are nothing more than pure poppy-cock – the ravings of a delusional minority who refuse to accept the truth.
One would expect no other response from the true believers. Challenging one’s faith is always a losing proposition. The fact that global temperatures have remained steady – and are now starting to drop a bit – since 2000? Irrelevant. The fact that upper air temperatures, which the IPCC models guarantee will increase as a result of burning fossil fuel, have not increased? Doesn’t mean anything. What is important, what is absolutely vital to the fanatics, are made up pictures of polar bears floating on ice bergs and slapping together data about steadily melting glaciers that – talk about inconvenient truths – have been steadily melting for thousands of years.
These are the “facts” that are passed off as “science” in this new medieval era. We are directed to ignore the evidence of physical science, indeed to ignore our very senses, and to give deference to the wisdom of the ancients – albeit that Al Gore is quite so ancient yet.
We should not be surprised that the Obama administration, and – by extension – Obama’s EPA, have moved so quickly to quash any dissenting notions with regards to global warming. The President did, after all, promise to reverse the rise of the oceans. That’s serious work, given that an entire planet – much less a solar system – factors into the equation. If you’re going to reverse the rise of the oceans, you better have the USEPA on your side. It would also help to have the biggest greenhouse gas emitters on the planet, which would be China and India, on your side as well, but we’re getting off track.
We’ll see what happens from here. The guess of your humble correspondent is that Mr. Carlin will be looking for employment sooner rather than later. It is never wise to point out that the emperor is buck-naked. When it comes to the religion that is global-warming theory, it’s positively career suicide.
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We've long become accustomed to typical behavior from given groups. For example, when it comes to bureaucracies like the EPA, no one would be shocked to find it infested with anal-retentive types so focused on what they perceive as the crucial details of their job they long-ago lost sight of the big picture.
With the EPA, there's at least a potential upside. The environment is far cleaner now than back when Richard Nixon signed it into existence. In the decades since, it has made major gains over pollution and have been proven at times to be a pyrrhic organization; quick to sacrifice small industry to achieve questionable "goals."
But the EPA has met these goals, regardless of the cost to local economies, and it is just that record that makes the latest BP Whiting Refinery "uproar" so much more frightening and potentially damaging nonsense.
As a government group with the power to severely penalize and even shut down businesses, an ever-growing group that has lived off the taxpayers for decades, the EPA does work many a politician, eager for the green vote and the green that comes along with it, look up to and applaud.
So what did BP do wrong? Nothing. The EPA, faithful to its "environment at all costs" charge, understood BP was playing by its rules. Low-level bureaucrats could figure that out; supposed public servants voted into office couldn't.
Instead, spurred on by media clowns begging for attention, some local politicians assumed the EPA was less stringent than reporters willing to say anything for a chance to push Lindsey Lohan off the front page and get their own name above the fold.
These politicians climbed in the anti-BPÑand therefore anti-EPAÑbandwagon, and didn't care if it rolled right over the truth. Since these men supposedly give the EPA direction, they need to at least act as if they have a clue.
People, with a seemingly infinite number of good reasons, expect little of our politicians. Few are naive enough to assume they are actually "leaders." More often than not, the elected simply follow whatever they see as the popular thought at the moment and jump on it.
True political leaders come around so seldom that, when discovered, they tend to earn themselves some statuary and/or face time on currency. Still, at the very least, we would rather our politicians did not get in the way, slowing up, complicating and burdening our lives.
The response of so many local politicians to the fabricated BP Refinery "issue" is an embarrassment. By taking their "science" leads from the Gores&Moores of the world, Senators Richard Durbin and Barack Obama, and U.S. Congressmen Mark Kirk and Rahm Emanuel, along with the DuPage County Board, have failed us all.
By cashing in on what they perceive as an acceptable prejudice, they endanger us all, and subject us to undue hardship. Their limo drivers probably don't mind what gas costs; the poor people struggling to get to work might have a different attitude.
The embarrassment is of course not to themÑfor foolish, uninformed behavior is not something they ever mange to see in their mirrorsÑbut rather to us, for tolerating their harmful stupidity. At some point, their detrimental behavior needs to be checked.
In this case, we implore our readers to contact these sheep disguised as men at http://www.petitiononline.com/ex71124d/petition.html and let them know that although we may not expect these men to think for themselves, they should at least follow the advice of some better-informed, reality-based grown-ups. Or maybe even their own EPA.
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Arends/GOP Tactics Are Appalling
Bill Newell's accomplishments as Wayne Township Supervisor should be enough to impress anyone. He has raised tens of thousands of dollars for good causes without dipping into taxpayer's pockets. He has supported seniors, veterans, kids and those in need. He has started programs that nurture volunteerism in our community and that recognize those who selflessly donate their time for the good of others. His accomplishments have been recognized by the Illinois Association of Townships.
The only people that Newell doesn't seem to impress are the old guard of the Republican Party, whom are determined to show him the door and who are willing to stoop to any degree of deception and underhanded tactics to keep him from winning a second term.
What makes township government unique is its populist, "all citizens are free to participate" tradition. One need go no farther than neighboring Winfield Township to find a candidate selection process that is open, honest and that encourages everyone to participate in a caucus to select candidates. But, in Wayne Township, the GOP big wigs have closed ranks and made the process as secretive and biased as possible, in order to keep voters from placing Newell on the ballot under the Republican banner.
Their chosen heir-apparent, Trustee Tom Arends, has already embarked on a viscous campaign of half-truths and outright lies in order to muddy Newell's good name. A letter penned by Arends implies that Newell "harassed and humiliated" township employees, and that he spends money without the approval of the township board.
The first charge is the kind of fabrication that would flabbergast anyone who knows the easy-going Supervisor. If Arends managed to dig up a disgruntled employee, that should be no surprise. Some people live their lives disgruntled, no matter who is in charge. The truth of the matter, however, is that the overwhelming majority of township employees both like and respect their Supervisor.
The second charge reflects the sort of self-serving twisting of the truth that only someone as singularly arrogant as Arends could contrive. Newell did, for example, hire a contractor to do basic housekeeping at the Wayne Township offices after Newell's physical condition left him unable to do so himself. And yes, he did so without formally signing a contract and seeking board approval. For Arends, this is damning.
What Arends doesn't tell voters, and doesn't want them to know, is that the previous Supervisor, Glenn Auble, had exactly the same sort of handshake agreement with the husband of his receptionist, to perform exactly the same work, and - during Auble's eight year tenure - the board never had a written contract for these services either. But Auble was the board's fair-haired boy, so trustees, including Newell-hater Joan Mruk, never said a word. When Newell reasonably assumes that he was simply following accepted procedure, Mruk, Arends and their pals tried to turn it into a scandal.
Arends and his allies, Mruk and Doris Kapiel, engaged in the same sort of self-righteous grandstanding when the flagpole at the township offices was damaged. Newell dutifully solicited three bids for its repair and then informed the low-bidder that he was going to place his bid before the board for approval. The contractor, not understanding the process, quietly completed the repairs on a Saturday before the board meeting. When Newell then presented the bill - all of $129 - Arends and his pals went ballistic. This from a group of trustees who don't show but the most cursory of interest in the big financial picture. Rather than pat Newell on the back for solving the problem quickly, they wanted to jump down his throat for their aggrandizement. It's "gotcha politics" at its most despicable.
Arends, Mruk, Karpiel and highway commissioner Ken Spitz owe their position, and allegiance, to the old Pate Phillip Republican machine, the people who gave us an Illinois governor - George Ryan - so reprehensible that the state elected an even worse one to take his place. The Pate blueprint includes stacking the deck whenever possible, and this group has done its best to do so.
The GOP selection committee for Wayne Township included: Randy Ramey, Pate's stepson (need we say more?); Pat Musson, the mother of township assessor Mike Musson, whom she was allowed to interview (no conflict of interest there); former Supervisor Glenn Auble (did we mention conflicts of interest?); Jim Zay and Karpiel.
When it came time to plan the caucus to choose the GOP slate, the powers that be did their level best to ensure that the meeting would only be attended by their cronies. They switched locations, changed times and dates, and, contrary to past practice, have done their best to make sure that the final arrangements were not known until the last possible moment.
The candidates they support are the insiders who have their own interests at heart. Trustee Laura Gebis, who has actually taken the time to understand the inter-workings of township government and whom is the one person who regularly asks relevant questions, and Newell, don’t rate a second look. They prefer blowhards like Arends and Mruk, a bully in a brassiere if there ever was one, to people who actually give a damn.
Bill Newell has solicited private funds to help the people of Wayne Township: over $2,000 to help the Sheriff's department patrol the township, $5,000 to help bail out WAYS; over $17,000 for repairs to the food pantry; and over $3,000 to help out needy families at Christmas. What have Arends, Mruk, Karpiel and Spitz done that even comes close to this record?
In his despicable letter, Tom Arends said that he wants to "restore trust in Township government". We couldn't agree more, Mr. Arends.
That's why it's time for you to get out of it.
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National Enquirer: Tribune Edition
By Rich Trzupek
A number of people e-mailed responses to last week's column about the BP-Amoco (non) issue. My favorite came from a fellow member of the Trzupek clan, my older brother Larry, who earns his living as a professor of chemistry.
"Unlike humans, who excrete urea in their urine, fish excrete ammonia. So, if we want to keep ammonia out of Lake Michigan, the obvious solution is to kill all the fish," Lar observed.
Sage advice, but a couple other readers offered criticism, too. Jack Putignano rated my letter to the senators "marvelous," but added "you should have included Mark Kirk, who has stuck his oar in the water and joined them in raving on BP. He sounds just like those other two mopes."
Chris Skelnik complained, correctly, that I "specifically call out our honorable Democratic senators, but conveniently omit any reference to similar positioning/positions, on the part of state Republicans."
I can't argue with either criticism. Jack, Chris: you are spot on. Mark Kirk, Peter Roskam and a host of other Republicans have made statements about BP every bit as hysterically ignorant as Obama and Durbin and a legion of Democrats. I apologize for the omissions.
Moreover, I also failed to identify the worst offenders in this festival of scientific ignorance. I did not even mention the people who started this wildfire and then gleefully fanned the flames until both politicians and the public were boiling mad. Allow me to correct this error now, by placing the blame where it should lie: at the feet of the Chicago Tribune and their Minister of Environmental Propaganda, reporter Michael Hawthorne.
I do not know what sort of degree Hawthorne holds, but, as a scientist, I cannot imagine how he could have gotten through Chemistry 101.
His stories about BP, like his stories on most every environmental issue, have been so incredibly sensationalized and appallingly full of distortions and plain old factual errors I am dumbfounded they could pass muster with any competent editor.
One can only conclude the Tribune's editors either: don't know, or don't care, that their lead environmental reporter hasn't the slightest understanding of the environment, environmental regulation or environmental science. I'm not sure which conclusion is more frightening.
There are so many examples of Hawthorne's horrific reporting I could never fit all of them into a month's worth of columns. Let's just consider one example.
In his July 15 article, Hawthorne pointedly says BP will be dumping "industrial sludge" into Lake Michigan. Sludge. ThatÕs a powerful word, isn't it? When we think of "sludge," we think of black toxic gas, spewing from an ugly discharge pipe, with dead three-eyed fish floating belly-up all around. In fact, the only sludge involved in the BP story is that produced by Hawthorne himself.
The "sludge" BP wants to discharge from its wastewater treatment plant will be 99.996 percent water. That is admittedly an increase from its current wastewater discharge, which is 99.997 percent water.
When Hawthorne talks about "sludge," he is presumably referring to the 30 parts per million of solids that will be contained in the discharge, up from 22 parts per million. That's less solids than you'll find in tap water. That's less solids then you'll find in many bottled waters. Thirty ppm might qualify as "sludge" for Michael Hawthorne and the boobs in Tribune Tower, but I can't imagine many reasonable human beings would share that opinion.
That's one example of just how badly slanted Hawthorne's stories on this issue have been. If nobody paid attention to them, these twisted stories wouldn't matter. They shouldn't matter. But the fact is this is the Trib and, as far as it has fallen, the Chicago Tribune still commands attention.
Legislators read headlines like "BP gets break in dumping in lake," and, because the story is in the Trib, they figure it must be credible. "Incredible" is more like it. This is the kind of stuff one usually finds in The National Enquirer and Weekly World News.
These stories not only hurt responsible companies like BP and their employees, they ultimately do damage to legitimate environmental causes. Though I work on opposite sides from environmental groups in my day job, I have friends in many of those organizations who are both reasonable and technically competent. They are as disgusted as I when environmental stories are wildly sensationalized, as this one has been. They know hysteria ultimately hurts their cause, for the public turns a deaf ear when the fanatics constantly cry wolf.
I can't change the world, but I can at least make the facts available for those who care to find them. So here's the deal: I have added a link labeled "Hawthorne Watch" to the home page of the Cheap Seats' Web site at www.trzupek.com. The next time Michael Hawthorne writes a piece, go to Hawthorne Watch and youÕll get the rest of the story.
Now let me be clear. There is nothing wrong with reasoned, respectful debate about environmental issues. Our natural resources are precious and we ought to protect them. I'm not saying that I always know the best way to do that. I am not nearly smart enough to be right about every issue.
We're not talking about who's right and who's wrong here. We're talking about getting facts right. We're talking about the basics: bias and accuracy and context. Without those, it's impossible to have a debate, for all we're left with is hysteria. And hysteria is all the Chicago Tribune gives us these days.
On the Web: www.trzupek.com