Unfortunately for environmental protection and regulation bodies, this means new budget restrictions at the state and federal level that cut even deeper into the wound of continued ideological attacks on their existence. Even if most have weathered the political blows, having $1.6 billion skimmed off the EPA does nothing to improve morale.
Pennsylvania has a history of environmental struggles with industries like natural gas and coal, and in light of such ideological hammerings, a rush to tap the state’s natural gas resources that has radiation turning up in rivers and potential drinking water supplies may proceed unabated. The real issue here is not that the state necessarily lacks the resources to combat polluters; it lacks the leadership to do so.
Most notably, this is manifest in the recent appointment of C. Alan Walker, owner and proprietor of multiple coal mining and transportation businesses, by new Republican governor Tim Corbett to be
acting secretary for the state’s Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED). In March [Corbett] gave him authority to expedite and influence permits at any state agency, including the Department of Environmental Protection, which regulates drilling in the Marcellus Shale, one of the nation’s most important natural gas fields.
The position essentially calls for assisting and expediting plans and permits that will create jobs “while preserving environmental enforcement.” But his decades-long history of fighting environmental regulation of his industry and public outspokenness about the absurdity of such regulations – he has called them “out of control,” “dangerous,” and “vindictive” – reveals a strong opinion of disrespect toward curbing and discouraging polluting activities in the interests of the public welfare.
Walker’s repeated public defenses of the behavior of his companies are rendered empty platitudes in light of their collective history, which includes suing an elderly woman after she complained to the state about her basement filling with acid mine drainage sludge. She was forced to shoulder the attorneys’ fees after the case was dismissed, in addition to the cost of repairs to her home.
Where was the state in all of this? Why, in the 25+ years of legal involvement with this man and his enterprises, was the state unable to force compliance with environmental regulation? Why hasn’t he been held accountable, instead of being promoted to a more influential political position?
The simplistic answer is that Walker is a predominant contributor to Republican governor campaigns (including the one who just gave him the new job), a shrewd and demanding businessman, and a clever rhetorician.
But I think this points to something more than special interests muddying-up government. Will anyone actually be able to live in Pennsylvania, or anywhere else severely affected by human activity, when it consists mostly of abandoned mines, toxic streams and rivers, and a sickly population? When will we begin to consider those things that actually impress most strongly on the human condition – like our sense of the sacred?
In Geo-logic: Breaking ground between philosophy and the earth sciences, Robert Frodeman argues for infusing the earth sciences with exactly those kinds of considerations. “The sacred expresses our sense that there must be bounds to human behavior,” he says, but his conception of the sacred is identified with
something more elemental and intuitive, and much less doctrinal, than what usually falls under the heading of “religion”… the sacred implies the centrality of the notion of care.
Is it really such a radical notion to think we should extend a certain amount of care to how we conduct ourselves within the environment? For all of us who live unaware of the kind of destruction Walker wishes to deem morally acceptable in the minds of the public – as in, it doesn’t happen in our backyards – are we willing to wait until environmental problems show up in our basements before we demand that these activities be curbed?
In the next twenty or thirty years, when our environmental situation dramatically worsens, won’t we wish we had done something to change our attitudes now?