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A PRACTICAL PLAN FOR TOXIC DUMPS

Here is a book community activists should read -- along with the political/policy establishment, the bureaucrats and the hazardous waste-nuclear disposal industry.

Michael B. Gerrard, a New York City based environmental attorney and a familiar face on the Niagara Frontier, proposes that disposal facilities for toxic and nuclear materials "be sited only when they are wanted" and that when "host" communities volunteer such sites "any individual neighbors who oppose should be compensated to move."

It points the way for a dialogue on a bedeviling conflict, particularly in a region besieged by toxic and nuclear dumps. Simply put, Gerrard's carefully documented plan calls for:

A national program to reduce nuclear and toxic wastes through using cost factors to encourage industry to minimize waste generation.

A federal agency to determine the volume of wastes produced nationally and require each of the states to accept its fair share.

States would seek volunteer communities to accept the risks in exchange for significant benefits. But a referendum would be required.

Gerrard says that proposed sites would have to undergo a technological investigation and preference should go to already contaminated sites such as military bases, abandoned dumps and other marginally contaminated lands.

The goal is to provide adequate capacity while eliminating the rancorous and expensive haggling.

Gov. Pataki might well read the book before deciding on his plans for disposal of low-level waste at West Valley. Gerrard demurs on giving an opinion on the site's suitability. He points out that his book provides a methodology for reaching a fair and rational conclusion.

He writes: ". . . Ramming these dread facilities down the throats of unwilling communities is neither necessary nor effective, and the power of government should not be invoked in the attempt."

Gerrard's book ("Whose Backyard, Whose Risk -- Fear and Fairness in Toxic and Nuclear Waste Siting, MIT Press, 335 pps. $39.95) offers a detailed background, including case studies in Western New York, where he has practiced.

New York embarked on a fairness kick in the '80s with attempts to require regional disposal of toxic wastes but it ended in a standoff between former GOP State Sen. John B. Daly of Lewiston and Gov. Mario Cuomo's environmental commissioner, Thomas C. Jorling. The commissioner's effort to bar the import of toxic wastes from out of state ended in a morass of court action.

Asked in an interview why he doesn't apply the formula to municipal garbage, Gerrard said there were adequate local controls on such sitings. Still, many of the concepts he outlines seem appropriate as national and multi-national dumpers seek to impose on such localities as Alabama and Farmersville.

Gerrard is best known in this area as the attorney who, acting for Niagara Falls and Niagara County, took on Browning Ferris Industries Inc. and was successful in killing off a proposed expansion of the CECOS International Inc. toxic dump.

Later, working for the county and the towns of Lewiston and Porter, he sought to block construction of twin, 100,000-ton-a-year commercial toxic incinerators. That was resolved when R. Nils Olsen, a University at Buffalo law professor acting for a citizen group, worked out an agreement by which CWM would drop its incinerator bid and citizens would drop objections to a 47-acre expansion of the toxic dump that makes it the largest ever built. Gerrard was also involved in the S-Area-Niagara Falls water plant relocation dispute.

Gerrard represents Cattaraugus County's bid to stop an Integrated Waste Corp. plan for a giant municipal dump at Farmersville, on a site offered by political leaders and rebuffed by Concerned Citizens of Cattaraugus County.

The book is a smooth mix of law, science, politics and technology, but written in style inviting to lay readers. One distraction is the constant referral to notes in the back of the book that might better have been put at the bottom of the page. The index is also thin.

Three other worthy books that deal with related issues are:

"The War Against the Greens" (Random House, 512 pps., $25) in which author David Hervarg, documents the often violent, sometimes subversive, now pervasive backlash that casts a cloud over the environmental movement. Know thy enemy.

"Deeper Shades of Green, The Rise of Blue Collar and Minority Environmentalism in America, (by Jim Schwab, 480 pps., $30) presents a disturbing and only recently emerging picture of what industrial America has done through environmental racism to blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans and Asian Americans in the name of progress.

"Green Gold: Japan, Germany and the United States and The Race For Environmental Technology (by Curtis Moore and Alan Miller, Beacon Press, 288 pps., $25) points out how major economic competitors are finding that good environment is good economics.

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