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Carlson: Hubris at EPA

Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

Ed Moreen, a project manger for EPA, working on the clean-up of the Silver Valley, is a nice guy. So is Terry Harwood, an employee of the Idaho Department of Ecology.

Sincerity oozes as they explain what government is doing to protect human health within a mammoth basin-wide Superfund site.

Both men, however, reflect the arrogance so many bureaucrats display – that smugness that comes from feeling they have the facts and all the answers.

The ancient Greeks called it “hubris.” It was on full display last week at an informational meeting at the Medimont Grange Hall. Twenty of my neighbors and I showed up to listen and ask questions.

Like all the “chain lakes” that lie on either side of the Coeur d’Alene River between Cataldo and Harrison, nearby Cave and Medicine were swollen with water from the spring mountain run-off and unusually heavy rains.

Therein lies the problem. Each year this seasonal flow brings new amounts of lead and zinc from historic waste dumps throughout one of the most mineralized and mined areas in the nation.

Funding this effort is $750 million extracted from mining companies who contributed to the creation of the waste. By law the money can only be expended for clean-up in the basin.

But how clean is clean? And how much sense does it make remediate areas in the floodplain that are flooded again with contaminated water? How thorough are studies on human health impacts as opposed to studies about the swans several of which die each year from ingesting excessive zinc and lead.

Most work so far has been done in the 21 square mile “box” surrounding the old Bunker Hill site in Kellogg. Now attention is turning to the lower basin and there are significant differences EPA should note.

EPA is forming “collaboratives” of interested parties. They claim these advisory groups will have real input into their “adaptive management” approach.

People are skeptical. What they see is an agency hell bent on spending $750 million whether it is justified or not. Despite having been in the Silver Valley 20 years, the agency has no real time-line nor any real cost numbers for its plans in the lower basin.

Despite federal law clearly defining EPA’s authority to be limited to navigable waters with ground water management left to the states, they see and read about an agency that proposes legislation to do away with that distinction. They see an agency that abuses property rights.

They see an agency whose subcontractors tell property owners if they don’t submit to soil sampling they’ll never be able to sell their property because while they of course won’t inform title companies which properties are clean and/or remediated. That of course is not a threat.

What Ed and Terry don’t get is folks around here don’t like money being spent just because it is there to spend.

Ed and Terry’s arrogance really showed at the end when they dismissed as a “pipe dream” a question regarding Congress possibly accessing the settlement funds since federal appropriations for NPL clean-ups are declining under other pressures.

Ed and his agency ignore at their peril this flag. The suggestion that their “storebox” might be raided came from none other than Idaho Second District Congressman Mike Simpson, the chairman of the appropriation subcommittee, over-seeing the EPA budget.

Yes, EPA is offering short-term jobs to those contracted with locally to undertake clean-up activities. My neighbors are trying to tell EPA you have created such a stigma by over-playing the health threat that it is going to be impossible for the current mining operations, which offer long-term jobs with benefits, to ever again flourish.

Believe me, the people of my home valley understand risk as well as reward, productive work as opposed to make work, benefits that outweigh costs, humility as opposed to arrogance, respect as opposed to benign tolerance. EPA still doesn’t get it.

CHRIS CARLSON is a writer at Medimont.

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