A flood of inexcusable garbage, how the ‘economy’ is ushering our doom

Eric Hill

Opinion Editor

As the old saying goes, out of sight and out of mind. That’s why the train blows a whistle before it comes steaming down the tracks. Right now we are not listening to the blaring siren of pollution—we are building a house on the train tracks.

A few weeks back I wrote about the continent of trash that is floating in the middle of the Pacific, as well as the concentrations of garbage forming in the Atlantic. Since then the president and responsible regulatory agencies have approved several measures that will likely prove disastrous in the coming decades. The first travesty of environmental policy is the sale of leases to explore offshore drilling in Alaska, Virginia and other East Coast states. The second is the Environmental Protection Agency’s new regulations on mountain top removal practices, which are about as tough as a tissue paper.

Now if you think I am on a “tree hugger hippie” rant and I am tying all these ideas together haphazardly, you’re wrong. Trash in the oceans, drilling on coasts and mountain top removal all have one extremely important thing in common: the water supply. In the last three decades we have destroyed our fisheries and coastlines with over-consumption, pollution and industrial accidents. It has gotten to the point where we have so many heavy metals, soft metals, chemicals and other pollutants in our water supply that we are starting to see the potential for serious health issues stemming from both ground water and surface water.

Let’s start with the mountain top removal coal mining regulations. The main environmental threat from mountain top removal is the pollution of tributaries from water runoff generated by valley fills. Valley fills are former valleys filled with mining refuse like coal sludge, trash and whatever happened to not get away from the explosion. When rain passes through these fills it picks up pollutants that end up in fisheries, streams and groundwater. This kills animals, fish, causes algae blooms and poisons people who drink the water. In some cases it renders tributaries completely undrinkable through the process of saltation.

The EPA regulations released on March 31 bar mountain top removal projects that exceed the prescribed toxin limits in valley fills, but the toxin limits are already far above what is considered safe for human consumption. While this will slow or stop some 79 projects from going ahead, truly “safe” levels of toxic runoff wouldn’t allow for any mountain top removal projects. The EPA is bending to the will of industry, violating its purpose to safeguard the environment and pretending that it is making a judicious and fair decision.

The second boondoggle of the last month is the endorsement of offshore drilling by the presidency. Not only will offshore drilling pose an immediate risk to the population through a possible industrial accident, the proposed sites for drilling are near some of the most important fisheries in the world. The Washington Post reported that $2 billion worth of lease contracts were approved for drilling in Alaska, which provides over a third of the world’s salmon and is home to several other spawning sites for important fish and wildlife.

Imagine for a minute that a new oil extraction project begins in the Gulf of Mexico, 150 miles off of the Louisiana coast. A large hurricane comes through and releases millions of gallons of oil into the gulf. This freaky lovechild of Hurricane Katrina and the Exxon Valdez would wreak havoc on a scale never seen before. It would destroy the Gulf of Mexico, it would displace millions of people and it would all be in the name of greater profits for oil company executives.

If you think I am exaggerating, let’s recount another story far away from the capitalism-driven United States, just to get a perspective on altering the environment for the “good of the people:”

It’s the 1960’s in Soviet Russia and we are living in what is today the country of Kazakhstan. We are standing next to the Aral Sea, the fourth largest salt lake in the world. Several nearby towns reap tons of fish from the lake each year. It feeds the inhabitants, drives the economy and provides enjoyment and tourism for the local communities around the lake. In 10 years the government has decided to divert the tributaries that feed the lake for industrial purposes—they want to grow cotton to help “stimulate the economy.”

In 30 years the Aral Sea does not exist. As the water was drained away the coastline receded quickly, ruining the fishing economy. The water grew saltier, it killed the remaining fish. The decrease in moisture from the lake made the summers hotter, killing nearby crops. As the salt from the lake dried it began to blow onto the air, wasting the surrounding soil. More water was needed to be pumped in from other sources because the local water was contaminated. Fertilizers were used to grow plants, which then produced runoff that led back into the dirty remnants of the lake.

Then the lake completely dried up. The baked salt, fertilizer runoff and pesticides created poisonous dusts storms that gave the remaining residents tuberculosis, anemia and cancer. The government reacted by trying to plant brush in what is now the Aral desert, hoping to buffer the poisonous and salty sand from transforming the rest of the region into a barren wasteland.

We depend on the oceans, the rivers and the mountains. They are our true habitats. We’ve left them and forgotten about them; in the process we have handed over our natural resources to industry, which wants nothing more than to pull as much wealth out of them, and leave us to deal with whatever consequences arise. The economy is whatever we choose it to be, we should not listen to industries’ glittering promises of a healthy economy, when their economic “advancement” will eventually cost us our health and the planet’s health.

Washington D.C. sh**s in the Chesapeake Bay and forms a committee to examine its own ass****. Then they call it good governance when they figure out how to spend taxpayer’s money to cleanup a mess industry caused. Do not cry foul when the train hits you—when the drought comes, when the oil laps your shores from a tanker spill, when fish become extinct, when your children get lead poisoning and all of nature’s beauty is traded for a worthless purse of coins. Do not let people tell you what is good for the economy is good for mankind because then we will truly have truly lost our connection with reality.


  1. The US has been drilling in the gulf of Mexico since the mid 1960s. Having worked on literally dozens of these, the chance of an oil spill of the type you describe is very low…. much more likely that you will be hit by a stray airplane as you walk to class today…
    Also, with today’s drilling technology, even if a rig were completely romoved from it’s site, no oil would escape.
    AS for coal: lets decide to mine it or not. If we do decide to continue to use coal, the most efficient by far is to use those resources that cannot be mined conventionally. again, with todays technology, there is no need to fill in the valleys, and replanting/replenishment of the hilltops can actually result in a cleaner environment with better habitats for wildlife.

    If the country were not scared by the anti-nuke crowd 25 years ago, over 62% of our energy could be produced today by nuclear power. It would power our vehicles, not have us burning food for energy (the whole corn/ethanol trade) and have a pool of talented engineers and scientists continuing to improve the systems. Instead, we are only learning from a handfull of future thinkers in Europe and…. soon to be North Korea and Iran. Hmmmm.

    I hope one can learn to have an opinion based on facts and experience without resorting to using objectionable words.

  2. This oil spill could become very ghastly if the leak cannot be fixed. We usually assume our technicians know everything, but you can’t defeat mother nature. Anyway, I hope Obama’s administration’s labors pay off. It looks like they’re trying.

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