Guest Opinion: Standards for good stewardship

How has the United States solved problems like hazardous waste, the pollution and fuel efficiency of cars and cancers from tobacco?

By: Michael Grimes


How has the United States solved problems like hazardous waste, the pollution and fuel efficiency of cars and cancers from tobacco?

The following is a brief history of these issues and a rebuttal to comments by the U.S Chamber of Commerce in a recent column by Don Brunell (“Quit piling on regulations,” Sequim Gazette, June 11, page A-15) about the cost and hassle of regulations regarding carbon emissions from coal-powered power plants.

All of these issues have something in common with each other. The cost to control and correct for these various problems are borne by both the industry involved and the individuals who use these products as well as individuals who are not directly involved with their use.

For a fuller discussion about hazardous waste in a community much like Sequim, I highly recommend the book, “Toms River.” This is a story of how a chemical company for 45 years treated its toxic waste before the United States had hazardous waste regulations and the resulting cancers it caused in the community for all age brackets including unborn babies.

Hazardous wastes are controlled by U.S. law including a Congressional mandate directing the EPA to develop a comprehensive set of regulations to implement the law. This law regulates commercial businesses as well as federal, state and local government facilities that generate, transport, treat, store or dispose of hazardous waste.

How did the chemical industry treat hazardous waste before our country had these laws? Well, in Toms River the chemical company simply bought a large parcel of land that was heavily wooded, put a fence around the property, cleared a portion of the property of trees in the middle for the factory, bulldozed a slit trench near the factory and for 45 years dumped its waste into this hole. The property was situated above sandy soil so no matter how much waste you poured into the hole the hole would never fill up as it would percolate down 40-80 feet into the water table which the nearby town of Toms River used for drinking water.

The regulations and standards relating to fuel economy of motor vehicles is regulated by the EPA. These regulations came about because motor vehicles contribute to the overall air pollution and our dependency on foreign oil. These regulations initially were fought by the auto industry as they would increase the cost to manufacture vehicles. By the time of our last major financial meltdown of our country in 2008, manufacturers in our country were producing vehicles that each year were more fuel efficient. The rest of the world vehicle manufacturers were doing the same thing. My guess is that if vehicle manufactures had not been forced to improve fuel efficient, there may not have been an auto industry to save. The rest of the world vehicle manufacturers would have improve fuel efficient, there may not have been an auto industry to save. The rest of the world vehicle manufacturers would have passed them by.

The tobacco example

When the health issues of cigarette smoking first came out the tobacco industry countered with commercials stating the calming effects of smoking and commercials that either directly or indirectly implied that smoking was sexy. The first report from the Surgeon General on smoking and health was issued in 1964. Since that time cigarette smoking has declined dramatically but even today over 220,000 Americans will be diagnosed with lung cancer this year. In addition, around 160,000 Americans will die this year from lung cancer caused by smoking cigarettes. Even though today, most every place people gather has restrictions on smoking, around 3,400 Americans will die from lung cancer as a result from breathing secondhand smoke.

The business community’s first response to global warming due to greenhouse gases in the atmosphere was to deny the science behind global warming. One aspect of science you may not be aware of is called peer review. This means that if you propose some scientific explanation, your findings are reviewed by scientific experts in the field to ensure quality control. As the evidence of global warming has accumulated, the use of denial of the science behind global warming has lessen.

Today, the business community, particularly the coal industry, has addressed the issue with free market solutions. This means, we, the coal industry, know the best means to deal with the problem and we don’t need any government regulations telling us what to do. As a brief review of the other issues in this article point out, industry does not accept doing things that add cost to their product or service unless compelled to by government regulation.

There are at least two main problems with global warming. The first is that once the emissions of chemicals enter the atmosphere, it make take centuries before they’re removed by natural processes. The second problem is that our planet is fairly finely tuned where just a few degrees change in temperature can have significant effects with flooding, storms, droughts, crop failures and the health and even the fate for large segments of the Earth’s population.

I think the best solutions to global warming can be achieved by bringing together both business and the government. Unlike the financial crisis of 2008 where the government stepped in to rescue the financial sector, this time, unless solutions are found and found quickly, the government will not be able to fix the problem alone.

Michael Grimes is a Sequim resident.