March 18, 2009 by Julia Wasson
Filed under Blog, Bottle Bill, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Environment, Florida, Front Page, Garbage, Government, Green Living, Hawaii, Iowa, Landfill, Laws, Litter, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Natural Resources, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Recycling, Slideshow, Tennessee, West Virginia
When bottled water first appeared on product shelves, I initially thought it was a waste of money. I held off for a long time. Eventually, like many of you, I saw the relatively small investment as a fair exchange for the convenience of portability. It was an attractive lure. I bit. And I bought. And bought. And bought.
Now that I’m deeply steeped in environmental issues, I have come to understand the disaster of bottled water. Aside from questions about the quality of the water and the safety of the plastic bottles themselves — significant issues, for sure — there’s the problem of waste. Millions of plastic water bottles get tossed in our waterways, lie smashed on our roads, litter our green spaces, or end up in our landfills. In the best-case scenario, they get recycled into other products.
But recycling is less frequent than one might think. When most container laws (often referred to as “bottle bills”) were first enacted about a quarter of a century ago, personal-sized bottled water was unheard of. (If there was such a thing, it’s safe to say that the majority of consumers didn’t know about it.) Today, water bottles and other non-carbonated beverage containers make up a huge proportion of the beverage-container waste stream.
In the US, only 11 states have bottle laws at all, and fewer still include water and other non-carbonated beverage containers. With so many states as hold-outs, you might well wonder whether container recycling laws are effective. Do they keep trash off the roads? Do they have any other economic or environmental benefits to the states that have them? Consider this statement from a New York State Department of Environmental Conservation press release (January 21, 2009):
“Since the original Bottle Bill was enacted in 1982 requiring a five-cent deposit on beer and carbonated drinks, roadside litter has been reduced 70 percent. More than 90 billion containers and 6 million tons of glass, aluminum and plastic have been recycled, resulting in saving more than 50 million barrels of oil and eliminating 5 million metric tons of greenhouse gases – a sum equal to getting 600,000 cars off the road for one year.”
But that’s just recycling of beer and carbonated beverage containers. What about adding water, juice, and tea containers as well? Does expanding the law make much of a difference? Do consumers actually make the effort to turn in their empty water bottles, juice bottles, or energy-drink cans?
AHEAD OF THE CURVE
For the past two days, I’ve been researching which states currently have bottle laws and, of those, which include water and other non-carbonated beverages. Four states that I know of have included water bottles in their bottle laws: Hawaii, Oregon, Connecticut, and Maine.
I asked Amelia Hicks, Environmental Health Specialist for Hawaii‘s Department of Health about her state’s deposit beverage container program. She said, “We’re working to capture as many beverage containers as Hawaii’s Bottle Bill will allow for redemption, including new energy drinks and workout beverages. By providing a financial incentive to encourage recycling, the Program effectively diverts millions [of] beverage containers away from the waste stream each year. Hawaii’s Bottle Bill law currently includes containers for beer, mixed spirits, mixed wine, coffee & teas, carbonated soft drinks, and water. In general, we are finding that water bottles make up a large portion of the plastic bottles being recycled at the redemption centers. Our redemption rate for 2008 was 72%, a large portion of which may be water bottles.”
Peter Spendelow, Environmental Specialist at the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality said, “Water bottles are covered under Oregon’s Beverage Container Act, but only since January 1, 2009. The amendment was passed as a compromise between those who wanted to add containers for juices, teas, energy drinks, and the like, and those who did not want to add any containers at all.” Another work session is scheduled for Thursday of this week to once again discuss proposed amendments to the container law.
Ilicia Balaban, Issue Associate for Connecticut Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) told me that the governor recently signed legislation expanding the state’s container law to include bottled water. The law goes into effect April 1 of this year.
According to the Maine Department of Agriculture website, the state’s bottle laws apply to all beverages. “ ‘Beverage’ means beer, ale or other drink produced by fermenting malt, spirits, wine, wine coolers, soda or non-carbonated water and all nonalcoholic carbonated or non-carbonated drinks in liquid form and intended for internal human consumption, except for unflavored rice milk, unflavored soy milk, milk and dairy-derived products…. Maine was one of the first of eleven states in the country to have a Returnable Beverage Container Law. When one looks at the history of success with the Bottle Bill, one cannot help but wonder why it isn’t a standard rather than an exception.”
The other seven states that have long-standing bottle bill laws do not include water bottles at this time, though legislation is pending in several states:
In Delaware, Bill Miller of the DNREC Solid Waste & Hazardous Waste Management told me, “Our bottle bill is 25 years old, and a lot has changed since it was written. Today, a big percentage of the market is water, juice, and tea bottles. I haven’t seen any draft legislation, but this is something we talk about a lot. I would like to see these items included in our Beverage Container Regulation.”
Greg Cooper, Director of Consumer Programs at the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection informed me that, in his latest budget, the governor proposed to expand the 1983 bottle statute to include containers for water, juice, teas, and other non-carbonated beverages. The Legislature must approve it, of course, but the hope is that the expansion will become law in July.
Vermont has no pending legislation regarding non-carbonated beverage containers, according to Cathy Stacy, an administrator with the state’s Solid Waste Division.
Howard Heideman, Administrator, Tax Analysis Division, Office of Revenue and Tax Analysis, Michigan Department of Treasury, told me by email, “Michigan‘s container deposit law applies only [to] carbonated beverages. Legislation has been introduced to include non-carbonated beverages: Senate Bill 54, sponsored by Sen. Michael Switalski. Last year, Rep. Mark Meadows introduced a similar bill, and may reintroduce it this year.”
Bill Blum, Program Planner for Iowa‘s Department of Natural Resources, reports that HF 150 proposes expanding Iowa’s existing container law to include water bottles, glass tea bottles, power drink containers, and other non-carbonated beverages. “The bill is no longer viable because of legislative deadlines. It was assigned to a subcommittee on February 2nd. Anything can happen, but there’s not a lot of activity on it right now,” he said.
That brings me back to New York and that January 21, 2009 press release I mentioned:
“New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Pete Grannis today urged support of the ‘Bigger Better Bottle Bill,’ saying it would reduce litter, keep million[s] of containers out of our landfills, help in the fight against global warming and generate badly needed revenue.
“Grannis noted that a flaw in the current law is that the five-cent deposit applies only to beer and carbonated beverages. In his 2009-10 Executive Budget, Governor Paterson has proposed expanding the law to apply to non-carbonated beverages.
” ‘It makes no sense to continue to differentiate these containers based on their contents — especially with non-carbonated drinks now making up more than one-quarter of the beverage market,’ Grannis said. ‘An expanded bottle bill also will keep New York’s roadsides, waterways and parks cleaner. Right now, too many plastic and glass containers end up as trash in our parks, playgrounds, rivers and lakes. And this problem will continue to grow as people buy more water and sports drinks.’
“Grannis cited a 2005 study by the Onondaga County Resource Recovery Agency that found that while 80 percent of plastic soda bottles are recycled, just 16 percent of plastic water bottles are recovered.”
If you’ve read this far, you’re probably already a supporter of bottle bills. You know, as I do, that a water bottle is essentially no different than a plastic soda bottle. It still becomes litter when thrown on the ground. It still breaks down into minute particles that add to water pollution and kill tiny sea life. It still required precious resources in its manufacture.
For years, only a few states have had bottle laws on their books, but change is coming. In addition to the revisions proposed regarding which types of containers are covered, several additional states are working to pass new bottle bills: Florida, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Tennessee, and West Virginia.
If you’re a resident of a state (or nation) that currently has a bottle law, be sure to thank your legislators. Let them know you support keeping the laws in place — and applaud those who have had the wisdom to revise the law to include water, juice, tea, and energy drinks.
But what if you don’t have a bottle law in place? You can still take action. Start by learning all you can about the bottle laws in other locales. A great site for a state-by-state and country-by-country overview is BottleBill.org. To be sure you have the latest scoop, however, contact your state officials directly. (To those of you in other countries, my apologies that this post is so self-focused. Feel free to write and let us know about your own laws.) Then let your legislators know what you want: a bottle bill that covers all types of beverage containers.
There’s even a growing movement to create a national bottle bill, which would simplify the redemption process and improve litter across the country. Want to find out more? Check Care2‘s petition site. Then take action. Sign the petition. Let your senators and representatives know that you support a nationwide bottle bill. (You do — don’t you?)
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)
“When something goes wrong, a company has an accident or a mistake, we immediately blame that company for not doing things right. And then, inside that company, it goes down from the plant manager, whose neck is on the line, and he starts looking for somebody he can blame,” says Molly Long. “There’s a hierarchy of blaming that occurs. It’s the picture of the two-story outhouse. No one wants to be on the bottom floor.”
As president of A.W.E. Consulting, Long audits compliance with ISO 14001, which, she describes as, “an international standard that helps people coalesce their environmental management into something that’s meaningful and trackable.” When a business seeks ISO 14001 certification, it enters into a process that changes that blaming mentality by putting responsibility where it belongs: at the top.
In Part 1, we interviewed Long about the abundance of laws, rules, and regulations surrounding environmental management. In Part 2, we talk with her about about her role as an ISO 14001 auditor. In Part 3, we’ll find out about Long’s role as an environmental consultant. — Publisher
BPGL: What is ISO 14001, and why should businesses care?
LONG: ISO 14001 guarantees the community in which the business operates that they are doing what they can to meet their environmental commitments: pollution prevention, compliance, and continual improvement. It sets up a framework for businesses to interact with their community, to comply with laws, and to make sure that the business is sustainable.
The primary purpose is to protect the environment, but businesses also can use ISO 14001 to help them innovate. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets standards so that everybody can be safe and healthy, and no one blows things up and kills fish and so on. But, if a business wants to, they can take it further and do what is environmentally correct and, at the same time, innovate a benchmark for other businesses to follow.
The ISO standards are created by the International Organization for Standardization. It’s a much broader group of people than if you just had legislators who were affected by their local issues. And there are lots of people who submit comments on the standards, too.
BPGL: As an ISO 14001 auditor, what are you looking for in terms of environmental management?
LONG: A lot of companies already do environmental management. They have to, because of all the regulations, but they don’t have a systematic way of doing it, and they’re not very good at collecting data about performance.
The way most companies interact with the environment is, “The EPA tells us we have to do something, so we’re going to do it this way.” They’re not necessarily doing it the best way, the way that’s the most efficient for them. They’re just doing it because they have to do it.
But the best environmental management involves three basic things:
- Defining what needs to get done
- Defining who needs to do it
- Identifying the things that will tell you whether it’s been done properly
A lot of people do the first part, or maybe the second part, but when it comes to measuring whether it was done properly or effectively or in the best way, they don’t do a lot of that. So ISO 14001 sets up a system that is driven by the top management in an organization. Top management uses this data on performance to help them meet three basic commitments:
- To comply with laws and regulations that apply to them.
- To prevent pollution wherever possible. So even if a law or regulation doesn’t tell their business they have to do something, but they know that it will prevent pollution, they pledge to do it.
- To continually improve. They try to make their business better, more efficient, and more effective at preserving the environment, at the same time making it more economically feasible and more sustainable.
Everything each employee does must be in line with those three commitments, which are stated in the organization’s environmental policy. The standard recognizes that the ultimate responsibility lies with top management to meet these commitments and provide the necessary resources to get the job done — it breaks the blaming cycle.
BPGL: How does a company get certified as ISO 14001 compliant?
LONG: The pathway to certification is through an independent body. If somebody wants to register their system to the ISO 14001 standard, they have to go to an authorized registrar. The business’s relationship with the registrar is as auditor and auditee. We differentiate between compliance and conforming, because compliance refers to laws and regulations, but the ISO standard is voluntary. Also, unlike most legal requirements, the requirements of the standard can be implemented in a variety of ways and still be considered conforming.
An audit is similar to an EPA inspection, except that instead of assessing compliance to a few environmental laws and regulations, the auditor is looking at the organization’s approach to environmental management holistically, all the ways their operation can affect the environment, both positively and negatively. The auditor for the registrar visits the facility to determine if they’re meeting the requirements for 14001, or whatever standard it is that they want to become registered for, so they can recommend that the organization receive certification for their efforts.
But certification is just the start. In a systems audit, we’re looking at the management of all media — air, water, and land, as well as effects to the community and natural resources use. We also look to see what positive impacts an organization is having on the environment. When a business has met the baseline for compliance, we want to take it a step further and help them make improvements to their management of environmental issues. We have to see evidence of that improvement in order for them to keep certification.
BPGL: Is ISO 14001 certification voluntary or a requirement for all businesses?
LONG: It depends. ISO 14001 is a requirement for companies that want to do business or sell things overseas. But for companies that just do business in the US, it’s not a requirement, yet. Many automotive companies require their suppliers at various levels to be certified, as they are themselves.
In some states there’s an environmental award issued by the governor or by a state agency, or even by the EPA, which has an environmental performance track. The award is a special type of recognition that has benefits that go along with it. And, often, one of requirements for getting into those programs or awards is that a business is a 14001-certified system. That’s as far as we’ve taken it in this country.
I think we place too high a value on compliance with laws and regulations. Our focus on compliance skews the metrics for performance by equating compliance with doing what is best for the environment. ISO 14001 requires the focus to shift to efficiency and sustainability, but many do not understand this. Also because it is voluntary, ISO is seen as less stringent, so businesses, regulators and the community at large still view compliance as the gold standard for environmental stewardship. We’re really missing the boat here.
Think of driving your car within the posted speed limit — you are complying with a law, but it doesn’t mean you are a good driver, or that you are committed to improving your driving skills. Lets face it: Many drivers focus on avoiding getting caught speeding more than they do driving as well as possible. It’s no different with environmental regulations.
Sure, obeying the laws is important, but our laws aren’t always the best option for environmental protection. Plus, laws don’t require you to improve or be more efficient — the EPA doesn’t care if businesses operate efficiently, their primary concern is for the public welfare. But as we talked about before, using laws to eliminate businesses because of environmental concerns is no more sustainable than allowing businesses to pollute as much as they want.
BPGL: Are many US businesses opting for ISO 14001 certification?
LONG: The US lags far behind the rest of the world in putting ISO 14001 systems in place. Any kind or size of operation you can think of can implement the standard, whether it’s a mom-and-pop grocery store or a not-for-profit organization, an office building, or a major industrial facility. And it’s an international standard, so it doesn’t just mean that the US can do it.
BPGL: Is a lack of efficiency something the environmental manager should be watching for?
LONG: Of course. Businesses want to be as profitable as possible, but you can’t maximize profits when you operate inefficiently. In ISO 14001, we have to look beyond compliance and understand the metrics that indicate good environmental performance as well as the context of the business, in order to make a judgment about whether they’re actually being successful at protecting the environment, being efficient, and becoming a sustainable business.
BPGL: So in some cases you’re an auditor and in other cases, you’re a consultant?
LONG: Exactly. I play two very different roles in my career. And the two really don’t meet. They can’t meet. I could never audit somebody that I consulted and I would not consult somebody that I had audited.
Consultants and auditors aren’t miracle workers — successful environmental management is up to top management. They have to be committed and supportive of environmental management, or it doesn’t work. Something I see everywhere is that companies hire an environmental manager, and he becomes the scapegoat. He’s the person that gets blamed whenever something goes wrong. But that’s just one person overseeing the activities of many other people, sometimes hundreds or even thousands, who all have the ability to impact the environment in some way through their work. I can speak to this, because I was in this position. One environmental manager, or even a small group of them, cannot possibly know what any one person is going to do right or wrong on any one day, and cannot possibly carry out all those activities by themselves just to ensure they happen properly.
Regardless of this impossible scenario, it is the reality in most traditional compliance-based system: all the onus comes back down on one person’s shoulders, the environmental guy/gal. So when mistakes are made, there’s a blaming culture that is very much out there, and it happens at all levels. But blaming doesn’t solve any problems.
BPGL: But how do you get away from that, when it all rolls downhill?
LONG: ISO 14001 tries to change that. The first thing it asks is, “Who is ultimately responsible?” Top management. They’re the ones who need to provide the resources to be able to get these things done. And that means resources throughout the organization. So you can’t just hand it to one person and say, “Here you go, here’s your system.” I try to work with management so they can get the right information to the right people, so they can each do their own work properly. That is so key.
BPGL: How can anyone be expected to be compliant when they can’t possibly know all the laws?
LONG: Being an environmental manager in a traditional compliance-based system is almost an impossible job. There’s no one person who can know everything, every law that is out there. I don’t profess to know even close to a small decimal point of all the laws that are out there.
This is one of the things I really like about 14001. Of course, you have to know what laws apply to you. However, at the end of the day, if you’re in doubt, you have your two other commitments to fall back on: Is what you’re doing preventing pollution? And is what you’re doing helping you to get better? If you meet those other two commitments, you are usually in compliance as well. By the same token, if those two questions aren’t answered, it doesn’t matter whether you’re compliant or not.
Compliance is ultimately arbitrary, because the same laws often apply in different environments, and also because they are influenced by politics and culture. For example, who is protecting the environment better? California doesn’t allow you to dump oil on the ground, but they do exempt some other nasty stuff from environmental regulation because of political lobbying. Whereas Mexico doesn’t care too much about oil on the ground, but you have to plant a lot of trees to offset the land you took up to build a parking lot.
ISO 14001 provides the tools for moving beyond compliance to arbitrary laws and begin following the path to true sustainability. It helps its adherents make sure the right people are doing the right job, and that they have adequate resources. It eliminates the blaming cycle by assigning accountability and responsibility to those with the proper authority. It also demands cooperative effort to find solutions that address the roots of problems rather than their symptoms, and recognizes that you can’t push your problems off on someone else. These are the management concepts I try to help people grasp, not only as an auditor, but as a consultant and trainer.
BPGL: Are you seeing a decrease in voluntary compliance in this economic downturn?
LONG: It’s interesting, because a lot of people are asking, “Is this economic slowdown affecting people’s ability to comply with environmental laws, are they cutting corners, things like that?” Actually, what I’ve found in my travels, has been more that people are taking the time to focus on some things that they don’t have the time to do when they’re running full bore. They’re doing maintenance, they’re taking the time to do some projects. So actually, we’re seeing some environmental improvements.
At least at this stage, we’re seeing that people are taking some time to do the little things that don’t cost a lot of money but the kind of things they couldn’t really justify in the course of day-to-day operations. For example, they’re organizing so that parts and materials are inside or in areas where they are less likely to impact the environment. They’re getting the stuff out of the way so they can continue running their lines. Now they’re saying, The line’s down, let’s organize this area. Let’s make it neat and safe and as environmentally friendly a space as possible.
Part 2: ISO 14001: Comply with Laws, Prevent Pollution, Continually Improve (Top of Page)
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)
January 26, 2009 by Julia Wasson
Filed under Air Quality, Blog, Consultants, Ecopreneurs, EMS, Engineers, Environment, Environmental Management, EPA, Front Page, Hazardous Waste, Laws, Pollution, Regulations, Sustainability, U.S.
“When I went to Ireland recently,” says environmental auditor and consultant Molly Long, “I sat in a pub with a pint of Guinness while being lectured to by an average citizen of Dublin about what environmental terrorists we Americans are. He didn’t know we were environmental consultants. It was a really interesting perspective. He said we do a terrible job of protecting the environment.”
Long is a former hazardous waste inspector for the state of Indiana. Today she is in high demand as an ISO 14001 auditor and an environmental consultant, two services she provides through A.W.E. [Agriculture. Wildlife. Environmental.] Consulting, Inc. As an enforcer of laws, an environmental auditor, and a consultant, Long has worked extensively with a wide variety of businesses, industries, and government groups. In this interview, she brings broad perspective to the topic of environmental laws and regulations.
We interviewed Long from her office in Michigan City, Indiana. What follows is the first of a three-part interview.
BPGL: What was your response to the criticism that businesses in the U.S. are environmental terrorists?
LONG: I wanted to listen, to hear what that take was. I didn’t want to pollute it with my own opinion. It was an eye opener. They thought our environmental laws were weak and shabby and didn’t do a good job of protecting the environment. And when I think back on it, they’re right. Our environmental laws have not done a good job of protecting the environment. But they’ve done a great job of confusing everybody.
Businesses constantly struggle to consistently comply with the laws and regulations – forget about trying to improve the environment. Our environmental laws are so complicated, we can’t really even tell if they are effective or not at protecting the environment.
BPGL: Are you talking about red tape?
LONG: Yes. Red tape is one of the biggest environmental tragedies we have. Having been an enforcer of laws and regulations, I can tell you that red tape is probably 90 percent of the problem. People can’t dig through it, and they can’t put proper resources toward physically protecting the environment because they are too worried about what kind of records they need to keep. Besides creating a red tape nightmare that kills more trees than it saves, we have actually weakened true environmental protection through our environmental laws because they are designed to manage a lowest common denominator for environmental protection that applies across a broad spectrum of regulated businesses. This results in some industries being under regulated and others being regulated out of business, or choosing to go somewhere else.
If you want to look at the causes of economic collapse, one of them is losing our industrial base. There is no country that can become strong and have a good, sound economy without an industrial base. For example, the steel companies are heavily regulated and cause a lot of pollution, but we need the goods that they make. We should be working closely with them to make sure we are regulating the right things environmentally and still allowing them to operate in a sustainable way. The very environmental laws that govern us are part of our problem.
BPGL: More of a problem than causing endless paperwork and confusion?
LONG: Yes, because often we aren’t regulating the right things, things that can have major environmental impacts. Remember the coal ash incident that happened recently in the Tennessee Valley? Coal ash is not regulated. We’ve taught all industry and business to focus only on those things that they can get in trouble for, not on those things that they should be taking care of for the simple reason that they’re bad for the environment. Just like with any other legislation, lobbyists and influence groups all come into play in the making of environmental laws. When I was a regulator, we had a saying: “Regulate by the part per billion and exempt by the ton.” Coal ash is one of those things that gets exempted by the ton.
We were raking mom and pop organization over the coals for miniscule amounts of pollution, (and sometimes putting them out of business) while the big guys could dump literally tons of polluting substances because the material was exempted from environmental regulation. It was exempted because the big guys had the big bucks to pay for lobbyists to get them the regulations they wanted. Meanwhile, the big guys are allowed to dump tons and tons and tons of this stuff, because it’s not regulated. What that means is, some lobbyist got in there and got what they wanted. The problem with laws and regulations is that they are subject to that very kind of influence. On one hand that sounds evil, but on the other hand, you can’t blame industry, because they are trying to find a way to operate and stay in this country.
Another confusing issue is that laws and regulations covering industry are not as strict in some parts of the country. Let’s say you’re in Alabama and you really want to bring industry down there. It’s the hot spot right now — all the South is the hot spot for industry. They’re giving every incentive they can think of to get industry to come down there. And let me tell you, the laws and regulations in Alabama are not the same as they are in Maine, or California, or Iowa, or Chicago. They’re going to do what they can to get the business down there.
BPGL: Does that mean they’re going to weaken their restrictions in the South? How can they do that?
LONG: The rules are set up to where the EPA is the federal baseline, and you can’t be weaker than the federal baseline. But the federal baselines are trying to cover 50 different states and the U.S. protectorates, as well, so we have lots of different scenarios, and the [federal] rules are going to be very broad and general.
States are authorized to run their own EPA programs, and they’re expected to make more stringent regulations based on the more specific environments in the state. There are lots of different contexts for the type of environment that needs protecting. Think of a business that operates in the middle of the desert versus a business right next to a wetland versus a business in the middle of a forest versus a business in the middle of a neighborhood.
BPGL: What are some examples of those different contexts?
LONG: I’ve seen some steel mills that are in the middle of a major city, and I’ve seen others that are out in the middle of nowhere. They have very different environmental concerns. The one steel mill that’s in the middle of the city is basically in a funnel, surrounded by multi-million dollar homes. They are scrutinized by the community every second of the every day, and people are concerned about their property value in addition to the environment. At this mill, everything it has is under cover. Their scrap yards are covered, so they can minimize noise and dust. And they have certain loading procedures for their ladles so that they don’t make noise.
But something that’s out in the middle of nowhere, and nobody’s around to hear or see, that’s a whole different story. Another steel mill has no human neighbors, but is very committed to protecting thousands of acres of forest nearby. It’s all about context. There’s no regulation or set of regulations that can cover every situation in a way that’s right for everyone. Instead of issuing laws based on theoretical science and the interests of lobbyists, regulators should be working closely with industry to determine solutions for environmental protection that are tailored to the business and the environmental context it operates in.
BPGL: With so many different contexts, how well do the regulations work?
LONG: One of the biggest problems we have in this country is that we’re piling all these regulations on different industries, and the regulations are made by people who don’t necessarily understand how things work on the level that they’re regulating. In other words, somebody is making regulations for a steel company who has never worked in a steel company. They don’t know how it functions, and that’s a problem because they can’t make the regulations match very closely to what needs to be done.
We’ve already got hundreds of thousands, if not millions and more, different regulations, and it varies from state to state, sometimes from city to city, sometimes from one area of a city to another area of the city, depending on the size of the city. We’re regulating all these fine distinctions, especially when it comes to something like air. We have all these complicated air regulations. But at the end of the day, you can’t subdivide air. You can’t say, This portion of air is clean, and this portion right next to it is not clean. It just doesn’t work that way. As my father says, that’s like having a no peeing section in a swimming pool.
BPGL: That brings me to a comment we heard from a family in Iowa. Their pool service company said that the acidity of their swimming pool had changed in the last few years because of the increasing number of coal plants in China.
LONG: Exactly. Weather patterns are worldwide. Air is certainly affected by weather, and weather is affected by air. What we do here is affecting what happens over there, and vice versa. We can’t just say, “You make your air as clean as possible, and everything will be okay.”
We end up pushing a lot of our problems away instead of dealing with them. We say, “Well, we just won’t have this industry here next to us, because it will be bad,” instead of working together to find a solution that is sustainable for everybody. It’s not sustainable if you’re putting all the nasties somewhere else. Then you’ve just made a problem for somebody else, and you’ve greatly increased inefficiency, greatly increased cost, greatly increased all the problems that go with it.
Another big problem with environmental regulation in this country is that it sets a very adversarial tone between industry and government. It sets up a fear among business owners: I could go to jail if I do this wrong! That’s the way our justice system works, but it doesn’t stop the bad guys from doing wrong – it just makes the average law-abiding citizen scared and confused. Then to top it off, the EPA does not offer any assistance or even a consistent interpretation of their laws. This causes many people to accidentally violate laws simply because of ignorance of them or misunderstanding the law’s intent.
That certainly doesn’t mean there aren’t people who don’t willfully violate environmental laws. When I was an inspector, there were people who were sent to jail through my inspections, and they deserved it. There were some really bad actors.
BPGL: Give an example of an environmental crime that got someone sent to jail.
LONG: An electroplater was going out of business and was dumping all his chemicals down the drain to the city. The city traced it back, shut off his sewer access, and called the state to investigate. By the time I got there, he was trying to sell his wastes and extra chemicals and trying to leave the state, possibly the country. In his parking lot, he was burning what he couldn’t sell. We also found out he had made a deal with the city to sell his polluted property (they didn’t know) to use for a children’s activity center. Based on my investigation and those of other state and federal agencies, he went to the federal pen.
Another company was picking up people’s waste and claiming to properly dispose of it. But it turned out they were dumping it in various fields around the county. We went to their residence to investigate and discovered a shed full of bulging drums of unknown material, which led to a big clean-up operation. These people also went to prison.
But that isn’t really the end goal — that only upon threat of death or going to jail that you should do something. You should do things because it makes sense to you and for the community, and because it helps your business. That’s the way a business has to work or it can’t succeed. A country where businesses can’t succeed is not going to have a strong economy, and countries with bad economies can’t do a good job of protecting the environment.
Part 1: Red Tape, Regulations, and Environmental Crimes (Top of Page)
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)