THE NEWS CAME last week that Georgia’s rather optimistically named Environmental Protection Division has, after months of controversy, granted another discharge permit on the Ogeechee River to King America Finishing.
For many, what few strings were attached to this slightly modified permit — they can’t discharge quite as many cancer–causing chemicals, and after five years of apparently illegal discharges they'll only have to pay a million bucks — made the decision almost more insulting than if the old permit had just been reinstated.
Those living along the river are beyond outraged, insisting that the river is “ruined” — a common word in this debate — and that King America not only got off incredibly lightly, but probably is the beneficiary of a venal and corrupt political oligarchy.
I tend to agree, and can only add:
Welcome to my world!
Take a seat over here with me, among these cobwebs and rolling tumbleweeds.
And welcome to the lonely life of a conservationist in the state of Georgia in 2012!
You see, these outraged people living along the Ogeechee aren’t your typical wacko communist eco–nazi tree–hugging hippies. Heaven forbid.
No, these are “salt of the earth” Real Americans™ who live right, vote right (way to the right) and are convinced government — in this case Georgia EPD — is never the solution, only the problem.
And now what I’m hearing from them are calls to vote the bums out who caused all this — that is to say, the bums they themselves voted in — and get back to responsible stewardship of natural resources.
Again, I agree with them. But as an old hand at this sort of thing, it’s hard to muster much outrage over something that’s unfortunately quite commonplace in Georgia.
No, the Ogeechee’s not “my” river and I may not have standing to be so blithe about it — but then again, the Ogeechee is no one’s private property, any more than the Savannah or the Altamaha or the Oconee.
In the manner of an uncle shaking his head while a young nephew is trying to figure out how to ask a girl he likes to the dance, or how to drive a stick shift, I confess I'm a little bemused at their newfound sense of environmental sensitivity and their obviously sincere desire for change.
The answer’s right there in front of you, but if you haven’t done it before, it’s still a shock to the system.
But I politely bite my tongue, not only because for the most part these outraged citizens are very nice, hospitable people but also because they have lots of guns!
And I try not to say what I’m thinking, things like: “Take a number,” or “Where were you guys when they started doing the same thing to the Savannah River only on a much bigger scale?”
Or even, in unguarded moments: “I tried to tell y'all this is what would happen if you kept on voting for people who value short–term economic growth over long–term environmental protection, but nobody wanted to hear it.”
I knew long ago, beyond a shadow of doubt, that Georgia EPD wasn’t going to do much of anything to King America, and that the company would almost certainly be able to resume business as usual.
(Of course, as usual that and two bucks will get me a small coffee at the Starbucks down the road.)
I knew this because that’s the plan. EPD is deliberately underfunded and declawed by the powers–that–be in Atlanta, i.e., the politicians that you and I elect every two and four years.
I’m gratified that people now want to vote those bums out — that’s almost always the correct answer and why I’ve come to support term limits — but frankly I’ll believe it when I see it.
See, another purpose of Georgia EPD is to be a convenient scapegoat: A politically compromised government bureaucracy which can take the blame for what elected officials have designed it to do, i.e. not very much.
I fully expect that when election time comes around for these office holders in the Ogeechee watershed, they’ll fall back, successfully, on the same old line of blaming the big government meanies in Atlanta.
Even though those same office holders have run that big government in Atlanta through essentially a one–party system for the past decade.
It’s a shame, but in its waning strength, the opposition party in Georgia has abdicated its role as the usual defender of the environment. The state Democratic Party has become almost completely urban in nature, and to put it bluntly... there ain’t much nature in the urban.
In the absence of a functioning two–party system in Georgia, we’re left with rule by the party which historically has done all it could to support the current system, whereby industry essentially polices itself and state agencies exist mainly to help industry maximize profit at the environment’s expense (cough, Public Service Commission, cough).
So please, by all means vote the bums out! I’ll do my part too.
But don’t be surprised if the new bums are the same as the old bums.
The Ogeechee River disaster isn’t a bug, it’s a feature. It’s part of the same crony-corporate system that's made most all our waterways and estuaries dumping grounds for industry and development, and maritime highways for cheap goods from China.
Any sitting politician out there right now — including many of those who are publicly wringing their hands and crying crocodile tears over the King America debacle— who tells you they have nothing to do with that corrupt system is either A) Lying; B) Extremely incompetent; or