Denton WHEN THE HYPE is over, when the dust of a thousand slick commercials sinks to the bottom of the tube, then Ronald Reagan’s misdealings with our environment will be revealed as the shortsighted scam they are. In his four years in office, Reagan has tossed our environment into a toxic pit over which flutters a lovely banner emblazoned: Dam the Future. Here, in indigestible bite-sized chunks, are the environmental misaccomplishments of the Reagan administration: Stripping The EPA The Environmental Protection oversees a hundred potential dangers, large and small: toxic waste dumps, groundwater contamination, new and potentially dangerous chemicals including pesticides, air quality, water quality, acid rain. Equally important, it presides over wide-ranging research programs: into the effects of carcinogens, mutagens; into bodies of water like the Great Lakes; into acid rain. By making Ann Burford Gorsuch head of the EPA, the Reagan administration sought to weaken the agency to the point of impotence. Environmental laws, the whole panoply of legal protections built up carefully since the 1960’s, would thus still be on the books. But no one would be able to enforce them. Gorsuch gladly complied, cutting EPA staff by onethird, putting its enforcement personnel through reorganization after reorganization, draining its budget, scorning its mission, missing no chance to demoralize. To no one’s surprise, the agency, so painstakingly put together, was a wreck within a year. Nor, despite recent window dressing, has it been put back together. In the meantime, there were dozens of wonderful “little” goals to pursue. In her first twelve months, Gorsuch: Pete Gunter is a professor of philosophy at North Texas State University and the author of a book on the Big Thicket. attempted, without hearings or public comment, to suspend a ban on public wastes in landfills tried to abolish or weaken limits on the amount of lead in gasoline attempted illegally to loosen air pollution rules for industries in areas that did not yet meet federal clean air standards halted use of the “superfund” to clean up toxic landfills cut research on water quality by more than half cut the budget for toxic substances control by one-third reversed recommendations to regulate proven animal carcinogens \(formaldehyde and diethylhex phthalate, exposed proposed deep cuts in appropriations and staff dealing with toxic landfills. The significance of these and many similar moves can only be understood against the background of facts like the following. Over the past 50 years some 55,000 new man-made chemicals have been added to the environment. No one knows how many of these are harmful to human beings. Roughly twenty are known to cause cancer in human beings; several hundred others cause cancer in animals. More and more of them filter into our public drinking water. In Cincinnati in 1980 EPA scientists found 700 synthetic chemicals in the drinking water, eleven known or suspected cancer-causers. \(Municipal treatment plants remove only bacteria, not toxic industry, according to David Osborne, writing in the Atlantic annual growth of 5 to 9 percent, a rate which in one decade could double human exposure to toxic chemicals. In any sane appraisal of these facts, more supervisory personnel, more research, and an expanded list of dangerous chemicals are called for. But not for Reagan-Gorsuch. Of the 80,000 waste dumps in the United States, approximately 28,000 may contain toxic wastes, and from 1200 to 2000 of these may pose immediate health hazards. Is this a serious matter? A dump does not have to be a Love Canal in order to be dangerous. It doesn’t even have to be nearby. The profoundest problem of toxic waste dumps is their ability to leak into local water tables or streams, whence they will first damage public cut off a source of industrial and drinking water. Let us assume as good Neo-Conservatives that we do not care about the pain and suffering, or even the cost, of illness. The loss of water supplies to a community or region is an economic death sentence. And once an aquifer is polluted, the damage is irreversible; lost once is lost forever. Yet only under immense public pressure did the administration begin, in a foot-dragging way, to deal with this problem at all. It should probably come as no surprise, therefore, that Congressional Democrats have recently been able to point to the existence of some 200 additional toxic waste dumps whose existence has been concealed by the administration pending the November elections. Let’s Hear It For Acid Rain Hundreds of lakes and hundreds of miles of streams in the northeastern United States are now devoid of fish life thanks to acid rain. Tens of thousands of lakes and as many miles of streams \(and, by the way, a profitable tourist leaching toxic materials into the water, acid rain has contaminated some reservoirs in the Northeast, the most affected areas of the country. Damage to forests is beginning to appear in the southeastern United States as well, while the first evidence of acid rain has begun to appear as far west as East Texas. In West Germany \(where air pollution is admittedly greater than in the United 5% of tree stands in 1982 to 34% in 1983. There is every indication that our eastern forests are headed in the same direction. That they are headed there more slowly leaves little room for consolation. Besides damage to forests, acid rain is estimated by some scientists to cause hundreds of millions of dollars worth of damage to crops each year. This is not to calculate the damage to vehicles, to buildings, to homes, and, yes, to people. This is a very real problem by any conceivable account. The economic losses it forebodes are immense. The “human” losses are incalculable. The souring of our relations with Canada which receives ample supplies of our Damn the Environment Let’s Do Business! By Pete Gunter THE TEXAS OBSERVER 19
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