By Lanny Sinkin
We are each products of our experiences.
I see in the morning paper an article about pollution appearing in Edwards Aquifer wells. The article recounts how tens of millions of dollars is being spent to buy development rights on a small portion of the recharge zone to prevent creating further sources of pollution through urbanization.
The story reminds me that back in 1976, the Aquifer Protection Association campaigned to have the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone purchased and placed in the public domain to prevent pollution that would, in turn, require very expensive treatment facilities to be built.
Congressman Henry B. Gonzalez introduced a bill in Congress to appropriate $76 million to purchase the Bexar County portion of the recharge zone.
San Antonio developers lobbied against the bill and succeeded in stopping the purchase of the recharge zone.
Now forty years later we are watching the totally predictable results of the highest priority being given to private profit over the public good.
Then there was the nuclear project. A handful of us raised questions about the project, ranging from the unrealistic cost projections being made by Houston Lighting and Power to the inexperience of Brown and Root to the intergenerational crime being committed by those receiving the power now and leaving the problem of high level radioactive waste for future generations to deal with.
The response to those concerns was that nuclear power would be cheap.
The cost did skyrocket. Brown and Root was eventually kicked off the project and paid more the $700 million in damages for their shoddy work, much of it exposed by opponents of the project, not the regulators at the NRC. The radioactive waste continues to pile up with no solution in sight after forty years.
Nuclear power is cheap because the externalities, such as burdening every generation coming after us with the waste, have not been fully counted in the price. If Unit 4 at Fukushima does collapse and the exposed spent fuel pool does burn, the environmental and health effects will be catastrophic and the costs unfathomable.
In the natural gas scenario, I see repetition of the same pattern and even some of the same players. A handful of people raised concerns about water use, water pollution, air quality, climate impacts, and the many other issues that have not been resolved before massive unfolding of the fracking industry. The major mover has been Halliburton (Brown and Root), whose prior leader (Vice President Dick Cheney) made sure to exempt the industry from any real regulatory process being put in place to protect the public from potential impacts of the natural gas exploration, production, and burning process. A major commitment to natural gas by utilities and others may well make a major contribution to climate instability costing billions of dollars that the industry will never be asked to pay.
The private profits of the gas industry took precedence over the protection of public health and welfare.
Now some of those issues are beginning to be addressed after the cow is out of the barn, although I have yet to see the climate effects being given serious attention..
I keep hoping that Homo sapiens will mean “wise” humans, not just “knowledgeable” humans. Without moral and ethical principles being incorporated, knowledgeable humans can do a whole lot of damage. Raising these questions does not mean condemning the natural gas industry as evil. It does mean challenging the absence of full disclosure and discussion of the major adverse impacts the industry may be having on the planet and its inhabitants. As with the Aquifer and the nuclear project, it may mean standing in front of a rush to decision by most of those in power and trying to get their attention on matters that they would rather avoid.
Lanny Sinkin is executive director of the non-profit Solar San Antonio. He also is a San Antonio native, former Fulbright Scholar, Harvard graduate and lawyer who co-founded the Aquifer Protection Association with his mother, the late Fay Sinkin, and coordinated a city-wide initiative that put the first aquifer protection measure on the San Antonio ballot in 1976. Follow Lanny and Solar San Antonio on Twitter, @solarsanantonio, or check them out on Facebook.