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Cheap Seats Online 2015 Part B

Environmental (In)justice - 10/21/15


By Rich Trzupek
  As veteran readers know, my day job involves helping industrial clients navigate through the dizzying number of environmental rules and regulations that we have today. Every once in a while I like to give you a glimpse of that weird world, and if doing so makes you think twice the next time somebody from the Sierra Club asks for a donation, all the better.
  Under the Greatest President Ever To Be President – Ever, the USEPA has made “environmental justice” a priority and state environmental agencies are dutifully following suit.
  What is environmental justice? It’s not treating all trees equally, whether it’s a magnificent oak or that damned buckthorn that I took down over two weekends. No, it’s about, or I should say it’s supposed to be about, making sure that low-income and minority communities are not unfairly taken advantage of by dirty rotten polluters.
  One might think environmental priority once in places like the south and west sides of Chicago would be to deal with the drug and gang culture that puts so much lead in the air, in the form of bullets traveling at high velocities. But, I digress.
  This idea of protecting low-income and minority communities from dirty rotten polluters sounds noble, but it has two inherent flaws: 1) the other name for dirty rotten polluters is “job creators”, and 2) everybody is equally protected by the pile of rules and regulations that apply equally everywhere already.
  Here’s what happens if somebody wants to build a new factory in a low-income or minority community. As soon as an application for an environmental permit is filed for the project a number of people get notified. The notification group includes the community, neighboring communities, public officials and, most significantly, a host of environmental groups.
  We could pick on any number of environmental groups, but in Illinois there are two that make the most trouble: the Environmental Law and Policy Center and the Sierra Club of Illinois. I’ll stick to the Sierra Club in this screed, because they are the mega-monster among environmental organizations, but the same sort of comments apply to most all of them. Shoot, start your own, get on the mailing list and you too can block economic development in low-income and minority neighborhoods.
  Because once that project is announced and Sierra Club gets wind of it through the environmental justice notification, their collective ears perk up like my collie spotting an evil squirrel with the temerity to invade his backyard. (If he could talk, I’m pretty sure he’d say something like: “Squirrels! In MY back yard?! That’s where I poop for crying out loud!!”)
  Anyway, the Sierra Club and its many, many, (many) cohorts love to find projects where they can swoop in like an avenging angel, protecting the ignorant masses from the robber barons and their nasty toxins.
  The fact that the nation’s air has gotten progressively cleaner for over forty years does not matter. The fact that Americans have access to some the cleanest, safest drinking water in the world does not matter. The fact that American industry is held to the same strict and strictly enforced standards that created this cleanliness does not matter, nor does the fact that those standards apply and are enforced equally everywhere.
  You want to freak out about global warming nonsense? Be my guest. But building or not building a new factory in a disadvantaged area is not going to affect the amount of carbon dioxide in the air in any measurable way. The only thing that is going to affect the amount of carbon dioxide put into the atmosphere by man for the foreseeable future is what China and India do, or don’t do.
  Meanwhile, back in a dirt poor neighborhood poor ignorant schmuck number one has a project he wants to do and thinks, “Hey, I’ll put it here. The land is cheap, the community can use the jobs and the town can use the tax revenue.” Then, poor ignorant schmuck number two, aka: the mayor of Dirtpoorville, thinks: “That’ll be terrific. I can get enough money to fix our sewers that have been leaking for twenty years. Hah! That’ll stick in Joe Smileyface’s craw if he tries to run against me again. The creep.”
  Everybody is happy, until the Sierra Club comes into town screaming “environmental justice alert!” and starts whipping up the citizens about the dangers, the terrible, awful dangers of allowing this project to happen. And many of the citizens, who don’t have any sort of technical background, and who don’t understand how strictly regulated industry is these days, and who cannot conceive of how ridiculously organizations like the Sierra Club exaggerate the slightest risk, rise to the bait. And the press, let’s not forget the press. Hacks like Michael Hawthorne at the paper that used to be the Chicago Tribune pile on, dutifully parroting the enviro talking points and perhaps mentioning one or two “claims” made by the developer as well, by way of preserving “balance” you understand. 
  Then, at the end of the day, the developer says “to hell with it” and builds the project in some rich, white suburb. Thus the rich get richer and poor get poorer.
  And that, my friends, is environmental justice.
  E-mail: rich@examinerpublications.com
  www.threedonia.com

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