May 31, 2016

Republic missed a chance to be a ‘good neighbor’

     When you think of our coal-ash mess, one temptation is for “Everybody” to blame “Somebody” because “Nobody” did what “Anybody” could have done. That’s right. Somebody ought to have said, “Wait a minute, Republic. You’re promising a lot of money, but this contract is too one-sided. We need to have the flexibility to renegotiate or cancel this agreement if unforeseen consequences bring unwanted risks or dangers to our community.”
     Yeah, that’s right.
     It’d be easy to wag our pointer-finger until it fell off. But what good would that do? Republic’s savvy lawyers set a trap. And blinded by “easy” dollars, Wayne County stepped right into this environmental nightmare. You know the old saying: “When you point your finger at someone, there are three fingers pointing back at you.”
     Yeah, that’s right.
     There’s enough blame for everyone, but that doesn’t mean we have to sigh and say, “Go ahead, Republic. Make us pay for our lack of foresight, while you pimp our environment for your profits’ sake. After all, prostitution is the world’s oldest profession.”
     Hold on.
     I’d rather you cut my tongue out before I muttered those woe-is-me words.
     As exasperating as this David-and-Goliath battle seems, our great-grandchildren and their children deserve better than us wallowing in that defeatist quagmire.
     No, sir.
     Surrendering is not a legacy we should leave for those who come after us. Toxic contamination of our natural resources is not temporary. Once lead, mercury, arsenic, beryllium and a host of other nasty things invade our coastal environment, they are here to stay.
     At the March 16 public meeting, I told Russ Knocke, Republic’s vice president of communications and public affairs, “If the Harvard Business School was looking for a case-study example of how not to handle a controversy, Republic’s dealing with Wayne County and coal ash would be a classic.”
     I will always believe that Republic chose Central Virginia Properties, LLC as the rail-spur applicant, hoping to tiptoe through the permitting process. A handful of people might have known Republic’s intentions, but 99.9 percent of our citizens were unfairly blindsided.
     Also, I feel Republic had good reason to believe the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would cave to industrial lobbying and reclassify coal ash as nonhazardous. You don’t get to be a $9 billion waste-management giant without having some influence on the federal regulatory process. Closer to home, Republic has hired Georgia’s former secretary of state, Lewis Massey, to lobby for its best interest with the General Assembly and our Environmental Protection Division (EPD.)
     The owner of Broadhurst Environmental Landfill had to know coal ash would cause an emotional turmoil in Wayne County. Republic almost got away with its stealthy scheme, hoping Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody wouldn’t notice.
     If Republic really wanted to be a “good neighbor” and “partner” with Wayne County, it should have hosted—with the county commissioners and the solid-waste authority—a town-hall meeting to educate us on its coal-ash plans. For the most part, prior to January, our citizens were clueless about coal ash.
     Since EPA changed its rules, Republic should have given Wayne County a say-so on coal-ash dumping. And now that citizens have had the audacity to balk, Republic is threatening to lash us with its money whip. Republic appears to be willing to ruin our reputation by turning Wayne County into an environmental sex slave while pumping up its reputation and profits on Wall Street.
     Yeah, that’s right.
     Our community’s brand and our environment are in great peril.

      That’s why we can’t let this happen.