“Natural” Allies — Environmentalists, Economic Developers and Faith Communities?

Tayloe Murphy, Virginia’s Secretary of Conservation and Natural Resources, wove together some interesting threads in a speech delivered to the Environment Virginia Conference in April and republished Sunday in the Daily Press. Environmentalists, we take forgranted, elevate the protection of the Chesapeake Bay watershed to the top of their list of concerns. But environmentalists, he argues, should find common cause with economic developers and faith communities.

The Chesapeake Bay, once one of the most bountiful estuaries on the planet, has been assaulted by decades of abuse. Although the “point” pollution caused by industry has largely abated, the “nonpoint” pollution generated by everything from auto emissions and loss of wetlands to industrial-scale agriculture and pesticide/fertilizer runoff, remains rampant.

A lifelong resident of the Northern Neck before moving to Richmond to work for the Warner administration, Murphy laments the loss of jobs in rural Bay counties that has accompanied the devastation of the marine population in the Bay. “It deeply saddens me,” he wrote, “to ride by one abandoned oyster shucking house after another – by lifeless crab picking facilities that today stand empty – all monuments to a once thriving commercial seafood industry that no longer exists because we placed on that industry the cost of our failure to keep its workplace clean and healthy.”

Restoring the bounty of the Bay could revitalize the local seafood industry, Murphy implies, providing a living for inhabitants who now commute great distances to find work. Furthermore, “quality of life” issues are increasingly a driving force in economic development. If I might be permitted to elaborate upon Murphy’s ideas a little, I would add that, as Northern Virginia, Richmond and Hampton Roads compete to attract and retain the creative class that disproportionately contributes to economic prosperity, the recreational opportunities offered by the Bay and its tributaries become a vital asset…. but only if they have clean water, vibrant wildlife and protected public spaces.

Murphy closes his speech by noting the spiritual dimension of protecting the environment. He quotes from the Episcopalian Book of Common Prayer: “We give you thanks, most gracious God, for the beauty of the earth and sky and sea; for the richness of mountains, plains, and rivers; for the songs of birds and the loveliness of flowers. We praise you for these good gifts and pray that we may safeguard them for our posterity. Grant that we may continue to grow in our grateful enjoyment of your abundant creation.”

“Increasingly,” Murphy closes hopefully, “Virginians understand that conservation adds to their wealth, their happiness, their physical and spiritual health, and the well-being of their families, friends and neighbors.” (Thanks to Barnie Day for bringing this to my attention.)


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  1. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    The environment is our home no less than it is for the creatures and plants we share it with. What we have allowed to happen to the Bay is a disgraceful example of housekeeping.

    During 20 years of sailing around the Bay you could watch the waterfont businesses in decline, the seafood plant in Reedville was closed down by development as surely as a hog farm would be in Centreville. Working homes were replaced with vacaion homes workboat yards were replace with marine RV parks.

    But the Cheapeake Bay Foundation estimates it will cost the Farmng Community a billion dollars to comply with new waterways regulations. Part of the cost of our failure to keep the seafood industry’s workplace clean and healthy was the cost of failing to recognize and deal with the costs of keeping it so. Conservation is not cheap and the money it needs can only come from a healthy economy.

    A friend of mine who is an accountant married a waterman. In the mid 70’s she was shocked to learn that he earned over $60k per year and had no bank account. Like many of us he took the Bay for granted.

    Yes, at one time there was money to be made on the Bay, but it is harder to do every year. No doubt the waterman who is now commuting great distances to work compares his gas bill with his former fuel bill for the boat with some satisfaction. Just as a farmer might well burn more fuel running his tractor than he does commuting, and earn less doing so.

    The idea that the ability to earn money on the water will bring those people back is simplistic at best. I once spent a morning at a crab picking shack in Bivalve and had a wonderful time listening to the women telling stories as they picked, struggling to pick up their accent as I went. They were wonderful ladies and happy in their way, but they were poor, poor, poor, not thriving.

    Part of the reason the Bay was overfished was because it could be done so cheaply with such labor. In failing to protect the labor, we failed to protect the Bay.

    Much of the Bay has very limited public spaces. Last I knew there was not a single public parking space in the entire town of Galesville. Launch ramps and public piers or even anchoring space is at a premium. If we depend on eco-tourism to clean up the Bay, we will also have to provide more public spaces, the same as with eco-tourism in the Piedmont.

    Short of a major storm in the open ocean, there is nothing quite like a violent Chesapeake thunderstorm to put the fear of God in you, and nothing quite like the grunting wraithlike patience of the heron to make you appreciate lifes quieter moments.

    For better or worse we have reached a time when all of our environment is managed environment, wild or not. If we wish to keep the environemt well, we will have to expect to hire good managers and pay them.

    Conservation is not cheap. And the creative class that contributes disproportionately to the creation of wealth is going to have to find a way to sustain those that care for the resources in a way that does not require them to wreck the resources in the process.

    It’s fine to sit up there in your grand home, lobbying your representatives to “save the _____”
    (fill in your own resource). It is quite a nother thing to have to actually go do it.

  2. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    I support Judeo-Christian stewardship, but blanch at Gaia worship of the environment.

    Having planted that flag on attitude, I’d like to see some numbers. Namely, where is the cause and effect established in scientific studies to show how putting x fertilizer on ground y distance from The Bay causes z pollution. I taught Research and Methodology for the Social Sciences years ago and would like to see the studies. If they don’t exist – establishing cause and effect – then those studies would be a good expenditure of public money.

  3. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    I think that is well documented, I remember reading years ago that the single largest source of pollution in the bay was Pennsyslvania cows, as a result of spreading dairy manure on the fields. It doesn’t seem particulary hard to put a tracer in the feed and wait till is shows up, but given the scale of the system you’d have to put a lot of tracer in a lot of feed.

    I have never actually seen the studies that prove cause and effect, however.

  4. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    Ray, Egg-zackly. Let the Commonwealth and Save the Bay and other foundations post the studies. Specific problems warrant specific solutions. I’d like to know more to know better.

  5. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    That’s an issue, but I’d be more concerned to see the studies that show that a certain solution generates a certain improvement.

    If these guys come up with a plan to fence every stream off from the animals, that’s one thing, if they come back and say you have to be fenced off at least by 50ft, that’s another, but given the history , soon their back wanting 400 ft, until they get what they really want, which is nothing, noplace, ever.

    It’s the creeping standards issue that kills you, nothing is ever pure enough, and we keep inventing new measurements.

    Recently there was an article in the paper about fecal coliform in some Fauquier streams. The evidence they had was something like a few percent due to human wastes, 30% due to livestock wastes, 35 to 40% due to wildlife wastes, and 30 to 20% due to pet wastes.

    If our biggest problem is wildlife wastes in the streams, what do we do then? If it’s only a couple of percent due to human wastes, those sites can be identified and corrected. In some cases water quality standards ere violated solely on the presence of wldlife contamination, for which the proposed solution is to declare a secondary contact recreation use, whatever that means.

    While the authorities say they have no intention of causing financial hardship on the stakeholders, they won’t sasy how much money will be available to help.

  6. Ray –

    I enjoy reading your postings. Have you ever considered starting a blog? Do you have one that I don’t know about?

  7. Scott Avatar

    Gaia worship? Give me a break!

    Who created MTBE?
    Our neighbors, the Ethyl Corporation (now called Afton Chemical).

    Saudis lobby to limit liability on additive
    Gas agent found in N.E. water
    By Susan Milligan, Globe Staff | May 16, 2005

    WASHINGTON — A company largely owned by the Saudi government has spent more than $1.5 million since 1998 lobbying Congress to shield the chemical industry from liability for damages caused by MTBE, a potentially cancer-causing gasoline additive that has seeped into water supplies across New England, according to federal documents.

    The chemical additive is widely used, particularly in the Northeast, to help gasoline burn more efficiently and meet standards set by the Clean Air Act. But when it gets into drinking water, MTBE is suspected of causing cancer, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

    Many state and local governments — including New Hampshire and 60 communities in Massachusetts — have sued oil and chemical companies, claiming that they should have known the risks of using methyl tertiary butyl ether. The communities say the companies must pay to clean up groundwater that became contaminated when MTBE-treated gasoline seeped into the soil from leaking tanks.

    But the industry — helped by the House majority leader Tom DeLay of Texas — has maintained that it should not be obliged to pay for damages caused by a product used to meet a federal requirement for cleaner-burning gasoline.

    DeLay is the chief proponent of a provision in the sweeping federal energy bill to relieve the MTBE industry of most liability for cleanup; the item led most New England lawmakers to vote against the measure last year, preventing Senate passage of the bill. DeLay won a fight to include the provision in the new energy bill that passed the House last month, but the Senate has yet to act on it.

    The Saudi company, SABIC, is a leading maker of MTBE. It faces loss of business and potentially heavy cleanup costs if Congress does not protect the industry from lawsuits. The company, which has a member of the Saudi royal family as its chairman, has an office in Houston and a research and technology center in Sugar Land, Texas, DeLay’s hometown and political base.

    SABIC executives did not respond to inquiries at the company’s Houston office.

    Several US companies that make or use MTBE have been lobbying heavily for a limit on their liability to clean up contaminated water. Environmentalists say the cleanup cost could total $29 billion, but industry and other officials say the cost is closer to $8 billion.

    Federal lobbying disclosure reports show that SABIC is a major player in the battle. The firm, described on its own website as the biggest non-oil industrial company in the Middle East, produces MTBE abroad and sells it around the world. SABIC Americas, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Riyadh-based SABIC, hired the firm of Miller & Chevalier to lobby on MTBE matters in Washington.

    Lobbying by a foreign company is legal. But critics of the energy bill say a foreign company — particularly one advantaged by ownership by the wealthy Saudi government — should not be benefiting from federal legislation meant to make the nation less reliant on foreign energy markets.

    ”The standard sound bites we’ve been getting for the last five years is that [the sweeping energy bill] will reduce our dependence on foreign oil. Now it’s about how to subsidize foreign oil regimes,” said Keith Ashdown, vice president of policy for the nonpartisan Taxpayers for Common Sense, which advocates against government waste. ”It’s a gift horse for SABIC.”

    A spokesman for DeLay said the House majority leader wants to limit MTBE lawsuits because it is not fair to force producers and users of MTBE to pay for cleanup because the federal government required them to put some kind of oxygenate in gasoline. The Clean Air Act amendments of 1990 mandate the use of additives to make gasoline burn more cleanly.

    In many parts of the country, gasoline manufacturers use ethanol, an additive made by corn, to help gas burn more efficiently. But ethanol is less plentiful in the Northeast, and many gas makers use MTBE instead.

    Delay has several companies that either make or use MTBE in his district. Those companies have contributed to his campaigns, although SABIC — barred by law from contributing because it is foreign-owned — has not done so, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

    The DeLay aide said no one in the office could recall a specific meeting between the majority leader and SABIC. But ”it’s possible [a SABIC representative] could have been at a meeting within our district with energy companies” to discuss matters of local interest, said the aide, who asked not to be identified.

    SABIC Americas reported in official disclosures to Congress that it has paid between $1.52 million and $1.53 million to Miller & Chevalier since 1998 to lobby on MTBE matters. Leonard Bickwit, Jr., the primary lobbyist for the account, said the company hired him to ”add some balance to the debate in Congress” over the issue of MTBE’s liability and future use in the United States. He declined to discuss the matter further, citing client confidentiality.

    Ownership by the Saudi government is tantamount to ownership by the Saudi royal family, said Bruce Everett, a former ExxonMobil executive and Middle East specialist who is now an adjunct professor at the Fletcher School at Tufts University.

    ”The issue the Saudis have here is they invested in equipment to make this stuff on the assumption it would be a salable product. Now, all of a sudden, they are subject to liability. I can understand their concern,” Everett said.

    The EPA says that drinking water contaminated with large amounts of MTBE has the potential to cause cancer. Some specialists believe the additive — used in much of Europe — is not dangerous, but all agree that MTBE makes water taste like turpentine.

    A recent study in Massachusetts found that MTBE was in the water supply in 86 Bay State communities. A federal study in New Hampshire in 2003 found detectable levels of MTBE in 40 percent of the public water supply, according to Maureen Smith, New Hampshire senior assistant attorney general.

    ”We allege they knew, or had information, that it would pose a significant risk to the water supply, and they chose to use it anyway,” Smith said. The New Hampshire suit seeks unspecified damages to clean the contaminated water supply. New Hampshire Governor John Lynch last week signed a law banning MTBE in gasoline in the Granite State after Jan. 1, 2007.

    Communities in 16 states are now involved in lawsuits over MTBE. So far, SABIC has not been named as a defendant. Trial lawyers said it is more difficult to sue a foreign-owned company, and that such causes of action are generally moved to federal court. Energy specialists said SABIC would be damaged by any action in the United States that taints the safety of its product or limits its use.

    Energy industry officials say they are being wrongly held responsible for something they were forced to do to make gasoline burn more cleanly. Forced to add oxygenates to fuel, companies basically had two choices — MTBE and ethanol, said Scott Segal, an energy industry lobbyist. MTBE was the more economic choice for the Northeast, which is not close to corn-producing states where ethanol is made, he said.

    Segal said a better way to clean up groundwater contamination is to create a fund municipalities and states could draw on. The House-passed energy bill includes $1.8 billion to seed such a fund, an amount environmentalists say is way too small to do the job.

    ”When you consider the fact that as much as 80 percent of resources spent on the tort system go to overhead and new Lear jets for trail lawyers, it seems to me that there ought to be a better way to get money to munici
    palities,” Segal said.

    The matter has become an enormous sticking point in the energy bill. DeLay succeeded in keeping protections for MTBE makers and users in the House bill. But in the Senate, the measure’s fate is uncertain.

    Senator Charles Schumer, Democrat of New York, said he will filibuster the energy bill if it contains protection for MTBE producers.

    ”There are a lot of powerful people backing [the energy bill]. Not just the oil companies, but the Saudis, too,” Schumer said, when presented with the lobbying data. ”This is just one more reason to oppose it. MTBE’s tentacles are everywhere.”

  8. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    More science, then the politics.

    Consider:The EPA says that drinking water contaminated with large amounts of MTBE has the potential to cause cancer. Some specialists believe the additive — used in much of Europe — is not dangerous, but all agree that MTBE makes water taste like turpentine.

    So how does MTBE get in the water? How much matters? Why? How do you prevent it and how do you clean it?

    Then, someone can start boiling the tar and plucking the feathers.

  9. El Equipo Progresivo Avatar
    El Equipo Progresivo

    Mr. Bowden,

    Actually, I believe that MBTE bonds with water at a molecular level and there is virtually no cleaning to do.

    It was designed as an octane booster to replace the effect lead had when added to gasoline.

    MTBE gets into the water supply the same way that lead did when it was used.

    The exhaust from burning gasoline is captured during rain and brought to earth then. Same as with the sulfur from burning of unleaded gas contributes so much to acid rain.

    The very best way to prevent, is simply to use less.

    If the U.S. used the same amount of oil now as we did in the mid seventies when unleaded gas was mandated, this would be ever so much less of a concern.

    And the study has been done to trace not only bay pollution, but contamination of ground water as well.

    I’ve got to run to a meeting right now but this is a “very” important issue and I would like very much to be part of this discussion!

    This is moving in a really good direction!

  10. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    Here is what may be the next round of creeping requirements. From an Australian Website…

    “Valuers, spatial scientists and pharmaceutical peak bodies have joined forces to urge secure property rights for biota, covering all animal and plant life.

    Matthew Davis, president of the NSW division of the Australian Property Institute, said that division, in company with the Australian Spatial Information Business Association and the Spatial Sciences Institute, which covers surveying, mapping and engineering, was concerned that secure biota property rights had not yet been developed in Australia.”

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