September 17, 2019

Following the money will lead to the truth

             Editors admonish rookie reporters: “Follow the money.”
If you want to know the back story behind the real story, follow the money. If you think money talks, listen to big money. Mega cash screams and twists arms.
Sometimes it takes a Sherlock Holmes-like sleuth to follow the dollar-bill trail that sneaks its way through backroom deals. Other times, the clues are blinking like a Budweiser sign in front of a roadside honkytonk.
            When a former coal lobbyist started running the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the warning signs didn’t just blink. Nothing-is-worth-protecting strobes bounced off every inch of the environment. You knew that Andrew Wheeler and the current administration would put money—really big money—ahead of the common good of America and our natural resources. Last week’s rollback of the 2015 water rules underscores that.
            I’ve traveled to Washington to testify at an EPA hearing on proposed toxic coal-ash rules. I’ve been to Atlanta multiple times to testify before Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division (EPD) and the state’s natural resources board. They all give the appearance of caring, but the deals had been cut. The votes have already been counted.
            Time after time, money wins.
            But that doesn’t mean those of us who value clean air and safe-to-drink water should wave the white flag.
Just the opposite.
Consider these examples:
§  The Broadhurst Environmental Landfill should not have been located in a soggy spot that sits atop the Floridan Aquifer and near streams, ultimately draining into coastal estuaries and the Atlantic Ocean. The initial report advised the geology wasn’t suitable. But money and wrangling made it happen anyway. Hindsight asks, “Where was the foresight?”
§  Why didn’t the county commissioners and the solid waste authority balk? The anticipated windfall of money from a regional landfill obstructed their down-the-road view. “Easy” money usually means “uneasy” consequences. Grandma was right: “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”
§  Some officials thought toxic coal-ash dumping was a quick way to fatten Wayne County’s coffers. The notion of a possible $10,000 per day was too seductive. A show-me-the-money attitude trumped the environmental dangers lurking ahead.
§  Other states are dumping their toxic coal ash in Georgia. Lobbyists—with plenty of money to influence legislation—are behind this shameful situation. Their goal was to save Georgia Power money in its toxic coal-ash disposal. The unintended consequence was to roll out the welcome mat for other states to get rid of what they didn’t want, putting 10 million Georgians at risk.
§  The above is just one case of cushy lawmaking in favor of Georgia Power during Nathan Deal’s gubernatorial tenure. Former Gov. Nathan Deal and his chief of staff, Chris Riley, are now reportedly retained as Georgia Power lobbyists. If you followed the money, you shouldn’t be surprised.
§  During the Obama administration, high-powered money got the EPA to rule coal ash—filled with dangerous heavy metals—to be nonhazardous. Ask the people of Flint, Michigan, what part of lead in their drinking water isn’t hazardous to their health. With the EPA’s new ruling, Americans won’t be asking, “What’s in your wallet?” They’ll want to know: “What’s in your water?”
§  The Alabama coal-mining company Twin Pines wants to strip-mine its 12,000 acres near the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. The swamp is an ecological treasure. Also on the lip of the Okefenokee is the massive Chesser Island Landfill, which is stockpiling mountains of toxic coal ash. Again, money finds a way to muffle the concerns and camouflage the risks.
            Don’t misunderstand. I am not against money. It’s a necessity. I am also pro-business. Every other Wednesday, my signature is on hundreds of paychecks. Businesses support our businesses. I’m an advocate for responsible use of money and responsible business operations. We should also expect responsible government, at all levels. Just as reporters must, taxpayers and voters should always follow the money.
            In the Bible you read: “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
            If you evaluate the above examples and what the EPA just did with our water rules, the truth ought to make you mad.
            Mad enough to double down and fight more for the people and places you love.