It's the Environment, Stupid.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Would GW like pollution if it were in his backyard?

The attorneys general from twelve states sent off a little letter to the EPA the other day expressing their concerns about GW’s proposal to relax toxin reporting standards. (I’m apparently a late comer to this issue – I missed the EPA public comment deadline of 1/13/06 - but by golly, that won't stop me from commenting on it).

According to the article from Environmental News Network, that got it from the Associated Press: “The proposed changes, which require congressional approval, would exempt companies from disclosing their toxic pollution on the long form if they claim to release fewer than 5,000 pounds of a specific chemical -- the current limit is 500 pounds -- or if they store it onsite but claim to release "zero" amounts of the worst pollutants.”

This reporting (Toxic Release Inventory Program - TRI) was put into effect by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) in 1986 as part of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA), and expanded in 1990 with the Pollution Prevention Act (probably PPA). (Acronyms retrieved from: http://www.epa.gov/tri/). TRI, while a fabulous asset, isn’t perfect – you could go plug in your neighborhood in the database, see a massive amount of chemicals being emitted near you and freak out, even though those might be non-toxic chemicals. On the other hand, there are other chemicals that might be incredibly lethal in low doses. You could look on TRI and think, “oh that’s not that much. We’ll be fine,” but really not be. There is also the assumption that all companies are reporting toxin emissions truthfully and accurately – but, come on, who really knows for sure?

My solution to this problem is simple: ZERO EMISSIONS! What if there were no toxins? There wouldn’t be any need for TRI or any reporting measures and it wouldn’t matter what kind of neighborhood these companies were located in because there wouldn’t be any toxins in any amount to worry about.

Yes, Virginia, zero emissions are possible. A company can look for ways to make its processes more efficient, reducing wastes and effluents, rethinking inputs etc. It is called innovation. Lots of businesses do it to stay competitive. Innovation can streamline production, increase efficiency and save money. Of course companies might need a little assistance in getting this done, especially the smaller ones, but it can happen.

Maybe zero emissions won't happen tomorrow (that would be an awful lot to ask), but if a company is open to innovation, it would greatly increase the likelihood that they would make the necessary changes towards zero emissions if the proper incentives were in place. What if instead of taking contributions (I wouldn’t go so far as to call them bribes) politicians gave that money right back to big business and said, “No, you take it and make your production process more efficient.” Or what if the politicians took that money and created a fund to support businesses who did want to change and move toward zero emissions (a fund for business, funded by business)? And what if these businesses could help each other out and share their technological innovations, and then what if they went through that whole one-upmanship thing where each company tried to be more efficient than the other, because the more efficient they were the more money they would get from that big ol' fund? (For the non-hypothetical version just substitute the what-ifs for when).

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