The politics of clean water is murky

Published 6:40 am Tuesday, July 31, 2007

By By Tray Smith
Over the past week, three reports have surfaced in local and regional news publications detailing residential resistance to environmentally threatening commercial enterprises. The first concerns the location of a water treatment plant in Baldwin County, the second a liquefied natural gas terminal in Mobile Bay and the third a chemical plant on Woods Road outside of Atmore. When combined with the ongoing controversy over the Conecuh Woods landfill, the level of tension between commercial enterprises and community groups in our area is growing. However, I believe that several of these concerns are misplaced.
First, it is hypocritical to use clean water, generate large amounts of trash and rely heavily on fossil fuels, and then resist plans to produce those products or store those items in a certain area. For years, Florida has banned all drilling off of its coast under the pretext that extracting the vast amount of fossil fuels stored underneath their beautiful oceans will damage tourism. But they enforce that ban without first analyzing the affect high fuel prices and energy shortages have on travel and secondly considering the amount of fossil fuels used to generate their tourism industry in the first place. If residents do not want to drill any fossil fuels in their area, they should ride bicycles. If they do not want water treatment plants in their community for environmental reasons, they should consider what their environment would be like if no one had access to clean water.
This brings me to my second point. Hypocritical concerns distract from truly important efforts such as recycling and conservation. It is foolish to protest the location of a landfill, but not recycle and burn trash and pawn, sale or donate items before getting rid of them. If you do not want to accommodate water treatment plant, use less water. If you do not want to produce fossil fuels in you area, conserve gas. While preventing a landfill from locating in your area may help your environment; everything that is thrown away has to go somewhere. The way to truly help the environment is through conservation.
Finally, irrational concern for local environmental conditions can lead to irrational disregard of what is in the national environmental and economic interest. The liquefied natural gas terminal in Mobile is a perfect example. Natural gas is the cleanest fossil fuel we have, and LNG terminals are one of the most effective ways for transporting that fuel. Providing a larger supply of it for consumption will allow us to reduce our reliance on other carbon-based fuels; thus bringing more natural gas into the country is an undisputable environmental advantage. But if every area capable of facilitating an LNG plant opposes those plans with the intensity residents of the Alabama Gulf Coast seem to do every time one is proposed, then local environmental concerns, which I have found no justification for, will prevent the execution of a national strategy to address energy and environmental challenges.
Just as the LNG terminal in Mobile would supply our country with greater amounts of clean fuel, it would also supply our economy with a larger supply of energy. That helps keep fuel prices and the burden they pose on other businesses in check. The terminal would also create jobs and capital in Mobile that would allow our region to expand upon its already phenomenal level of growth.
These reservations do not mean that there are no circumstances were eco-based objections to commercial enterprises should arise, but rather that such concerns should be considered with respect to the underlying conditions that create the need for those enterprises, the affect such developments will have on the nation's environmental interest and the economic benefits any such development may yield. I thus applaud Atmore Mayor Howard Shell for voicing his reservations about the Woods Road chemical plant, as it is likely to have little economic benefit and as it does not produce chemicals heavily consumed by local residents. By following his lead and regarding each of these factors with equal importance, we may be able to build a national consensus on an environmental/ energy/waste strategy that respects our energy needs and confronts our environmental challenges. But we better be careful, or we may end up like the people of Baldwin County proudly who are viciously opposing clean water in the name of environmental safety and public health.
That is the bottom line.
Tray Smith is a sophomore at ECHS and former intern in the Riley administration. He can be reached for comment at

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