Leader Blues

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

EDITORIAL >>ADEQ friend of polluters

We confess to a vague uneasiness over the comments made by officials of the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality when it comes to pollution in the state. The department is not concerned at all about the proposed expansion of the Two Pine Landfill in Jacksonville, which will encroach on the homes of hundreds of nearby residents and create an unsightly mess and a possible health hazard near Hwy. 67/167 and the North Belt Freeway.

If approved, the landfill would process almost twice as much garbage as the current dump and move within a few yards of Dupree Park, where children play every day. Ball games are played there every summer, and it would be a true disservice to children who will have to breathe the odor and polluted air that tons of additional trash will be sure to create.

Landfill drainage already gathers in Five Mile Creek and Bayou Meto, and ADEQ has found wastewater could become an even bigger problem. If the landfill grows, so will the drainage that enters Bayou Meto. That water floods Dupree Park often.

Members of the Jacksonville City Council expressed their outrage last week over plans to expand the landfill on the north side of the North Belt Freeway. Perhaps even more shocking, some council members were not even aware of the landfill operator’s plans to add more trash at Jacksonville’s entrance.

If not for a group of concerned citizens who care about Jacksonville and its surrounding communities, the expansion could have been pushed through ADEQ’s consideration process quietly and without notice.

The landfill has greeted drivers at Jacksonville’s north entrance since the 1970s, but much of it was hidden from view. It has only taken on such an overpowering, unsightly presence in the past few years, since trees blocking it from the highway were cut down to make way for the North Belt Loop. The landscaping ADEQ requires to block the landfill from the highway is nonexistent.

Every effort must be made to stop Waste Management, the landfill owner, from moving even closer into the city’s neighborhoods.

The bureaucrats who run the Department of Environmental Quality appear ready to give the green light to the trash hauler’s expansion plans. This is a pattern we see around the state, where industry has a license to pollute.

At a forum on coal power this week at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, ADEQ officials did not hide their sympathies for polluters. The department must soon make a monumental decision on whether to issue an air permit for a new 600-megawatt coal-fired generating plant near the poor communities of Fulton and McNab in Hempstead County.

Mike Bates, chief of the air division of the department, said whether burning coal to generate electricity was “the best thing or not so good” would not be a factor in the department’s decision. Rather, the department will simply determine whether American Electric Power Co. and its subsidiary, Southwestern Electric Power Co., met the regulatory requirements for a permit. If they did, the permit will be issued.

Meriting the public trust involves more than seeing that a company that could cause grave and permanent harm to the land and streams and to generations of Arkansans and people around the world crosses every “t” and dots every “i” in its application.

We are quite sure that Swepco’s legion of attorneys and technocrats has managed to do that, as have the attorneys for Waste Management. We are not so sure of the accuracy of scientific “studies” that they have submitted to the department. Swepco has also gone to the state Public Service Commission, which voted 2 to 1 to grant a permit for the company to build the big plant near one of the most environmentally valuable and sensitive habitats in the region.

Whether burning coal to generate power is good or not so good is the very heart of the public health issue that the Department of Environmental Quality should be evaluating. Everyone, even the company’s executives, lawyers and hired scientists, acknowledges that carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, nitric acid, mercury and coal dust are not good for the environment and the public health, but the advocates of the plant say the pollution would be within a tolerable range.

It is true that technology has dramatically reduced sulfur dioxide, the acid rain that was once thought to be the most dangerous particulate from coal plants, but now we know that the most sinister pollutant is carbon dioxide, the odorless and unseen gas that rises into the atmosphere, where it stays from 50 to 200 years. It is the principal cause of global warming.

The Turk plant at McNab will puff more than 5 million tons a year into the atmosphere, which will be added to some 30 million tons a year generated by the existing three coal plants in the state. Would it be appropriate for the Department of Environmental Quality to say that 30 million tons is all that Arkansas air should tolerate? If not, what is the point of regulation?
What’s more, how can a state agency claim it’s concerned about environmental quality and allow a landfill near a children’s playground?

The Department of Environmental Quality needs a director with backbone. Gov. Mike Beebe should find someone who will stand up for the people and not cater to the needs of industry. The agency continues to fill its historical role, serving the interests of industry. We thought it might be different once Mike Huckabee’s hack director was ousted, but it’s still protecting polluters and ignoring public safety.