Thursday, January 26, 2012

Right-Wing Duplicity Fouls the Air

Environmental regulations.

They're onerous, big-government, job-killing, left-wing farcical drivel.

Unless, apparently, they're not.

Many right-wing conservatives talk a big talk against environmental regulations.  Indeed, protecting the environment is code-language for stealth commie-pinko anti-disestablishmentarianism.

Environmental regulations are killing American productivity.  Or so these right-wingers claim.  They fight to protect industrial polluters in places like Midlothian, Texas, for example, home to several smog-belching concrete plants.  Concrete plants about which people have been complaining for years, since they contribute significantly to the air pollution with which north Texas increasingly suffers.

Yet for as long as people have been trying to force them to move to a far less populated corner of the state, these concrete plants have enjoyed fierce protection from their local Republican congressman, the ultra-conservative Joe Barton.

Midlothian is south of Dallas, a smallish blue-collar town of middle-class tract homes, fast-food restaurants, and truck stops.   Relatively conservative, mostly white, but hardly affluent, it's a far cry from the suburbs north of Dallas, and cities like Frisco, which hardly even existed ten years ago.

Ahh, yes:  Frisco, Texas.  

Today, Frisco lies on the outer bands of north Dallas' exurban halo, boasting an upscale white-collar lifestyle with high-priced restaurants, exclusive shopping, sleek corporate campuses, and sprawling gated communities choked with luxurious McMansions and foreign luxury cars.

All very white, very affluent, and very Republican.  All built around a little battery recycling plant which used to be on the outskirts of town.  Back when Frisco was just another hick village stuck out in the dusty Texas prairie.

But for all of the so-called egregious environmental rules that conservatives have managed to skirt for the concrete plants south of Dallas, conservative voters in Frisco have suddenly found value in them, hurling those same rules against the little battery plant in Frisco.  They want that battery plant gone.  It's contaminating the environment.  And destroying their quality of life.

Battles like this illustrate why conservatives have a hard time mustering credibility when it comes to the environment in general, and pollution in particular.

Exide Technologies built their battery recycling plant back in 1965 on a plot of land several blocks south of Frisco's placid Main Street.  Since then, thousands of people have moved to Frisco, and they've decided Exide isn't a good enough neighbor in a community now boasting seven-figure homes.  A neighborhood group calling itself "Get the Lead Out of Frisco" has begun agitating for Exide to shut down its operations in town.

Frankly, Exide's Frisco plant has been listed as one of the 16 top lead polluters in the nation, but its existence was no secret when developers started plowing under Frisco's old farms for new subdivisions.  It's a classic case of poor research by homebuyers, many of whom seem to have been caught off-guard by learning they've moved near a four-decades-old industrial polluter.

This past January 17th, Frisco's city council voted unanimously to begin the process of revoking the permits Exide needs to operate the plant.  For their part, Exide is expected to mount a vigorous lawsuit to keep its plant operational in Frisco.  If the plant is forced to shut down, about 135 jobs would be lost.

Either way, it will likely be years before Exide's fate is decided.  Although their Frisco facility isn't very large, it's part of a large enterprise with operations in 80 countries.  Frisco may have its state senator in its corner, the powerful Republican Florence Shapiro, but Exide has plenty of political influence itself - plus some pretty deep pockets.  It's not acting like it's going anywhere, even stating that it will continue to modernize the Frisco plant and introduce new environmental safeguards as if everything is business as normal.

That's not what Frisco wants to hear.  But it's similar to what Midlothian residents have been hearing for years.  In October of last year, Republicans in the House of Representatives voted to further delay new regulations for cement kilns based principally on Republican Representative Barton's unwavering loyalty to the cement manufacturers in his district south of Dallas County.  Although some perfunctory improvements to reduce industrial emissions have been made at Midlothian's three mammoth concrete plants over the years, they've failed to significantly maximize the available technology that can minimize pollution.

Air quality studies in Midlothian consistently affirm that pollution is at safe levels, although environmentalists and some experts say the tests are flawed.  Republicans like pointing to such bickering as proof that the fuss over cement kiln pollution is exaggerated, but up in Frisco, the lead pollution is only significantly detectable within a one-mile radius of the plant, above land mostly owned by Exide.  So why the fuss in Frisco?

This is where the double-standard in conservative politics rears its ugly head.  Why is it that the poorer, blue-collar environs of Midlothian get snubbed when it comes to questioning the pollution belched out by three enormous cement manufacturers, while the far richer, white-collar exurb of Frisco feels entitled to run out of town one of the area's long-term employers?

Surely capitalism should be allowed unfettered reign wherever it's planted in the Lone Star State.  Wasn't that one of Governor Rick Perry's presidential campaign themes?

Or, might environmental regulations simply be onerous... until they become a convenient tool for one's political base?  If it wasn't for government-mandated environmental regulations, Frisco wouldn't have a case.  And without those regulations, Midlothian still doesn't have one.

Either way, Republicans lose credibility on an issue that should be important to us all:

Clean air.

Update:  Frisco's new residents got their way:  the Exide plant officially closed on Friday, November 30, 2012.

1 comment:

  1. Extremely well said (and thoroughly researched). If pollution is undesirable in one location, it should be undesirable everywhere, no matter how much money they people have (or don't have) who live around it. Check out a WSJ column by the great Charles Murray on the growing separation between the enclaves of the extremely wealthy and the rest of America:


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