In a tucked away corner of Kentucky, on a recent Thursday night, several elected officials conducted a poorly publicized public hearing to discuss whether regulations that have protected the Ohio River from pollution should be “revised.”
The regulations under review have been in place since 1948 when all the states on the Ohio agreed, with various degrees of reluctance, to do something to protect the river.
The outcome of this uneasy agreement was ORSANCO, the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission. ORSANCO has, for the years since, regulated the amount of pollution that can be spewed into the Ohio.
Much to the frustration of the coal power plants that line the river, every few miles.
Has ORSANCO done a great job? Well, no. Many hearing participants noted at Thursday’s meeting that the Ohio is the most polluted river in the nation. That statistic is backed up, as of 2012, by research coming out of Pennsylvania.
But, all things being always relative, the Ohio is still not as bad as China’s Yangtze River which has gone yellow from chemical dumping, according to Jim O’Reilly, author of the Law of Fracking, who spoke at the Thursday night hearing.
O’Reilly noted that China is in the process of acquiring interests along the Ohio and that, if regulations are abandoned, “the Yangtze will be the model.”
Speakers at the public hearing were largely indignant about threats to their drinking water and air quality. The contamination of Flint, Michigan’s drinking water was alluded to several times.
According to speaker Connie Mayle, “Five million people rely on the Ohio for their tap water.” Mayle also sensibly noted that it’s going to cost a lot of taxpayer dollars for states to reinvent the wheel and draft their own standards for the river.
Robin Blakeman asked “Why give up a system we know works” and “turn the Ohio River into cancer alley?”
But some of the most troubling testimony came from a gentleman who has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Because there is no evidence of the illness anywhere in his family history, he suspects environmental causes.
“My only question is: Did I get it through the air, did I get it through the water? . . . What exactly caused this? . . . I don’t know. What I do know is that we should be increasing standards . . . not decreasing them,” he said.
Some speakers were openly angry with ORSANCO reps. John Blair, editor of ValleyWatch.net, went on record with these comments:
“I kept hearing the word ‘revision’ used by Mr. Heath and others tonight. Whenever you’re going to wholesale eliminate something, it’s kind of a platitude, isn’t it, to call it a ‘revision.'”
Linda Newman outright threatened the commission. “This is putting five million people’s lives at risk. This is abdicating your responsibility. If you go forward, members of the commission, with alternative two . . . there must be some way to sue you, collectively and individually, for putting our lives at risk. There must be some way to ask, ‘are you going to continue to meet and to pay yourselves and reimburse yourselves for your expenses while you overtly decide to do nothing, to not carry out your mission?’ This is an abdication of your appointed role. And, as citizens, we must hold you accountable.”
Direct line to Donald Trump
Of course, it’s tempting to grumble and blame Donald Trump for everything, including things that take place at the micro-local level.
In this case, however, we can draw a tentative line between the Trump regime and ORSANCO’s willingness to give up on standards that have kept the Ohio somewhat safe for seventy years.
Trump’s now legendary disregard for environmental standards, even those that simply protect public health, have emboldened industry officials to demand that ORSANCO leave abandon its work and let states decide what happens to the Ohio on their watch.
Was it just a dog and pony show?
Several participants noted the absence of any industry leaders arguing on behalf of deregulation.
It makes some of us wonder if the public hearing was just a “dog and pony show,” staged to satisfy the formalities of a public hearing after the deal had already been sealed behind closed doors.
The hearing took place in the Holiday Inn of Erlanger, Kentucky, arguably a few stone throws away from Cincinnati, but not very convenient for most of the people who wanted to speak.
The nearness to the airport was, of course, a great convenience to the ORSANCO members who flew in for the hearing.
Several speakers said that a hearing should take place in Evansville, Indiana which has been hard hit by river pollution.
Also of interest was the size of room which was designed to accommodate about sixty people, and not even big enough to seat all the people who trekked for hours to that out of the way location.
As the hearing swung into its third hour, ORSANCO representatives drank water from matching bottles, labeled “VIP” and presumably provided by the Holiday Inn, to those gentlemen only.
The rest of us drank water out of the tap. Presumably processed from the Ohio.
What you can do
This is a public comment period, so please comment on or before August 10, 2018.
Email your comments to: PCS@orsanco.org. Put comments in the body of the regular email. DO NOT ADD AN ATTACHMENT.
PLEASE PROVIDE YOUR FULL NAME AND YOUR FULL ADDRESS WITH YOUR COMMENTS. IF THESE ARE NOT INCLUDED, YOUR COMMENT WILL NOT BECOME PART OF THE RECORD.
Mailed comments should be addressed to: ORSANCO, 5735 Kellogg Avenue, Cincinnati, OH 45230, Attn: PCS Comments.