CELDF

Guest Blog: Updating EPA Frack Waste Regulations: Let’s Call it What it Is

A recent article from the Columbus Dispatch, Groups sue U.S. EPA over fracking waste regulations, caught my attention:

“A number of environmental groups are suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, saying the government has failed to adequately regulate how companies dispose of waste created by oil and gas drilling…. ‘Updated rules for oil and gas wastes are almost 30 years overdue, and we need them now more than ever,’ said Adam Kron, senior attorney at the Environmental Integrity Project.”

Five years ago I would have read this news and thought to myself, “Yes! This is a good thing.  Thank goodness there are groups suing for what is right!”

However, today, with five years of experience working to protect my community from fracking, I have a much different response. My neighbors and I tried the Ohio EPA, ODNR, and our legislators. We quickly learned that was a hamster wheel, and changed tactics. Today, with five years working in a system designed to work for industry – not we the people – I no longer am cheering headlines like these.

Why are we, concerned residents and environmentalists, asking for new rules to be written, instead of asking for the harmful activity to be stopped? Why do we need more rules that will simply allow the destruction of our communities, one permit and one regulation at a time? Don’t we have enough evidence that this system is NOT protecting the environment at all?

regulations
Photo courtesy of Christian Schnettelker http://www.manoftaste.de/

For the past 50 years we have had hundreds, maybe thousands, of regulations written to protect the environment. Why then is the Ohio River the most polluted river in the U.S. for the 7th year in a row? Why are we watching Lake Erie die a little more with each passing year? Why is Cleveland listed as the 11th worst city in the country in air quality? Why did Toledo and Sebring residents go days without clean water to drink?

If regulations are the answer, then I have to point out the obvious: We have the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, The Safe Water Drinking Act and lots of other regulations on the books. We have countless commissions and agencies in place to protect the environment. We’ve had them in place for decades.

Why aren’t they working for us? Because they weren’t designed to stop the harms. They were designed to allow the harm and then regulate it. Updating those regulations doesn’t fundamentally change anything.

It comes down to this: Industry is permitted by the state to conduct their business. They are issued permits to “legally” harm our communities and environment.

EPA
Photo courtesy of Flick Creative Commons TexasGOPVote.com

Why then are these “big green” environmental groups suing a government agency to write MORE rules and regulations? Regulations that will, at best, simply slow the speed with which the environment will be flat-lined? Why are we the people, through our tax dollars, willing to pay for the continuing failure of an agency to “protect” us and the environment? Why aren’t we doing for ourselves what the system obviously can’t or won’t do for us?

If you think I’m cynical, I’d argue instead that I’m simply less naïve. Our problem is not that we don’t have enough regulations. Our problem is that the regulations allow the destruction of our environment to occur at a regulated pace. That’s the conclusion my neighbors and I reached during a multi-year attempt to protect our residential community from fracking. We already had ninety wells drilled in our neighborhoods. We did not want more.

What we discovered is that we have plenty of regulations, as the drilling industry already knows. Heck, they ought to. Their lobbyists wrote them! And you can be sure that whatever new rules come out of any EPA revamp of standards for issuing frack waste disposal permits, they’ll continue to allow the disposal of that toxic swill in our communities. And I predict those new rules will, more forcefully than ever, forbid interference from local laws offering greater protection than the current corporate state allows.

state preemption
Photo from http://grassrootschange.net/preemption-takes-center-stage-in-2015/

There is a big difference between prohibiting an activity that you know will cause harm and regulating the rate at which that harm occurs. The state forbids us from prohibiting those activities. It insists that we settle for the nominal limitations on them that create the make-believe “protections” of the EPA. And if the regulations become too burdensome or costly for corporate interests, then the state and federal legislatures grant exemptions to the biggest polluters. This is a further denial of community rights and self-governance.

You begin to see the big picture. The rules are written by and for the polluters…not us or the environment. If you think updated regulations change that – think again.

Here’s what I want to know: If my community could figure this out after just one local battle against the permitted poisoning going on in our hometown, why can’t the big greens who have been doing this for decades figure it out? Why would they continue to divert donations and people’s precious time into a strategy that perpetuates the very system that needs to be dismantled? Instead of calling it out and demanding structural change, they press on with strategies that haven’t worked since they were implemented 50 years ago.

Image source: http://postmormon.blogspot.com/2013/05/the-mormon-shame-and-tame-cycle.html
Image source: http://postmormon.blogspot.com/2013/05/the-mormon-shame-and-tame-cycle.html

But then, there’s big monies coming in to keep big greens on this big hamster wheel.

There is something else going on, though. Many communities who once followed the advice of professional “conservationists” and regulatory “reformers” are recognizing that it’s a strategy requiring surrender from the beginning. Today, instead, they are attacking the root of our real problem. No longer willing to settle for minor concessions like “set-backs” and “zoning” compromises, they’re demanding that the people directly affected by corporate industrial projects in their communities be the ones to decide if they should be allowed at all. It’s a strategy that follows the logic of the American revolutionaries, who insisted on community self-government and consent of the governed, instead of concessions from the king.

It’s not really a new strategy, but one that seems to have been abandoned by those who believe that settling for a slower rate of destruction is better than nothing. That’s a mindset of “we’ll take what we can get.” We know where that road takes us. My community, along with dozens of other communities in Ohio and across the U.S., have chosen a different path. We’ve joined the Community Rights Movement.

The idea that nature is endless and we can continue to destroy her at a regulated pace is quickly catching up to us all. The realization that our lakes, rivers, oceans, forests and atmosphere can accept our interminable waste and pollution through “dilution” is precisely what is killing the very environment that sustains all our lives.

So my response to this lawsuit is this: It is NOT going to solve our problem. In fact it just perpetuates a system that allows more destruction. My plea to these groups and individuals involved is to drop this suit that allows the harm. Devote your efforts and resources helping those people working to clear a new path. Help build a real movement to actually save the environment: the Community Rights Movement.

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