‘Private Profit over Public Good’ led to Failure to Protect Aquifer Recharge Zone

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Lanny Sinkin, Solar San Antonio

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.



8 thoughts on “‘Private Profit over Public Good’ led to Failure to Protect Aquifer Recharge Zone

  1. Enjoyed reading this article. Many hours of discussion could be had regarding these issues. However, in summary, taking the article at face value, the amount of trust I have that those in power will take the right actions, especially those actions where the results/impacts of their decisions will not be recognized until long after their power and influence have diminished, is low.

  2. The article was well written. It brought out the value that one man can make a difference. Wisdom is having perfect knowledge of a subject matter to which, only a few choice words properly executed provokes the mind to a greater understanding for a call to action. Thank you, Mr. Sinkin

  3. I hope Lanny Sinkins comments are not that the Aquifer Protection Program, that was passed by the citizen voters is not worthwhile.

    Indeed this appears to be the only way to protect the Edward’s Aquifer, as development will occur if it isn’t purchased or conservation easements placed on the land.

    The concept of developing this plan was a collaboration of many of us who know that water is a precious commodity to the individual and to the city and state. The citizens of San Antonio “get it” when it comes to water.

  4. I worked with Fay Sinkin in the days of the RTC, looking for land to purchase over the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone. In our tennis shoes, we tromped around RTC lands over the Aquifer looking for Black-Capped Vireo and Golden-Cheeked Warbler habitat.

    Our work resulted in the Government Canyon State Natural Area becoming a protected habitat for birds and water. That land has been recently designated as part of a Global Important Bird Area – the Southernmost Edwards Plateau IBA. Lanny’s mom, Fay, would be proud.

    Lanny is continuing Fay’s important work. Thank you, Lanny.

  5. Thank you very much, Lanny. In support of your excellent analysis, I propose a simplification to the STAAR testing program even in this early phase. Let’s drop all the subject-specific items and make sure that all Texas students can successfully perform at grade-appropriate levels at critical and systems thinking. Of course, this is mostly tongue-in-cheek, but if Texas students left high school with highly honed critical and systems thinking, they couldn’t be bamboozled into agreeing to the debacles of the past… or those that are upon us again. Perhaps if that had been the case in the recent past, there would have been an outcry to slow down till we know more about fracking outcomes, and news coverage would be more balanced about the benefits. Unfortunately, previous state tests stopped at basic skills, so there are a lot of Texas high school graduates and out-of-state high school graduates able to count their money! And we unfortunately might once again be supporting the development of an energy resource similar to the nuclear industry, which some very wise people before me have likened to a toilet without a flush. Who wants to live in THAT house?

  6. I presume you will not talk bad about the horrible economies of scales in your solar industry and how the entire subsidization of solar has polluted the environments of where they are made…

    convenient is our ideology. Inconvenient are the facts.

  7. I live in one of those “neighborhoods” developers built over the recharge zone. The agreements to allow development included prohibition of certain pesticides/herbicides/fertilizers. But these prohibited chemicals are sold by the truckload at Lowes, Home Depot and Wal Mart. Where’s the enforcement of those “agreements” the big developers agreed to? The banned chemicals should not be sold at stores located over the aquifer (and explicit labels prohibiting them to be used over the recharge should be posted on them if sold within 50 miles of the aquifer). And on the topic of solar power – if every house in this area were to put at least 5kw of solar oriented to produce maximum power during the peak afternoon cooling demand we would not need more power plants to meet the demand. On the contrary – developers created rules against this with their corporate-styled governments (HOA corporations) and developer-imposed regime rules that prohibit solar power. These prohibitions continue in spite of laws enacted in 2011 to prevent such prohibitions. But the law was worded in a way that rendered the law ineffective. Changes to the wording of the law was made by lobbyists from HOA corporation management companies who profit from enforcement of developer-imposed rules long after the developer has left the building. Wise men+women attend political hearings and point out the dangers of fracking and other dangerous corporate plunder of our natural resources. These knowledgeable people know these methods will likely ruin our environment, but money is more important and they protect the status quo with religious zeal. When the Edwards water becomes undrinkable, will these lobbyists and their paid puppets face prison or a death squads? THAT is really our failure as a society – we fail to hold accountable those who plunder the health and welfare of future generations. We’ve allowed “Knowledgeable”, plundering pirates to influence (should I say “BRIBE”?) politicians in direct opposition to the will of the people. Outrageous corporate controls decree that solar panels reduce property values, and when the legislature took up this issue and proposed legislation that voided any such restrictive covenant, the corporate lobbyists flooded the capitol and watered down the new law so much it’s completely ineffective. These prohibitions on residential solar power directly detract from the live-ability of our “units” (used to be called homes, but corporate serfs live in units). Prohibition of solar prevents the average homeowner from investing in this technology so the solar power industry will continue to flounder until every homeowner can get it on their home without begging permission from the reich or living in fear of getting sued and fined $200 a day for violating the sacred CC&Rs. Our environment is on an unsustainable path of decline as long as we worship/allow these fascist documents (CC&Rs) and their corporate lobbyists to remain in power. The term “Corporatocracy” should be a real word…with fascism as part of the definition. I applaud the wise men and women who go to these meetings and try to do the right thing. I must also say SHAME ON YOU to those who ignore their advice, I hope you are poisoned by your Fracking profits!

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