WASHINGTON – Pleadings for “states rights” are usually associated with the segregationist presidential candidates George C. Wallace and Strom Thurmond.
Now this lame, discredited slogan is being sold by President Trump to justify the savage, disabling financial and staffing cuts in programs that are restoring the Great Lakes.
Trump’s budget will undo nearly a half century’s worth of slow but steady work of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Trump’s “broader state autonomy” sham ignores the conditions that existed before federal environmental enforcement took hold.
This is how it was 70 years ago in Buffalo when national corporations used the Niagara River, Lake Erie and the Buffalo River as nothing more than their own private sewers under the “states rights” regimen.
West Side Rowing Club rowers grew up believing the natural color of the water in Buffalo Harbor was – in the sunlight – a lucent greenish gray and that we shouldn’t expect to see our white-painted oars after they plunged only inches below the surface.
When it rained, the storm sewer system unloaded dreck into the canal not fit for description in a family newspaper. Floating debris was so commonplace we just steered around it. Once in awhile we would hit an animal part riding just under the surface.
After their workouts, rowers wiped their spruce shells clean in the old boathouse. It was not unusual to collect a quarter pound of greasy gunk on the cleaning rags.
If any of the rowers ventured up the Buffalo River, which was next to never, they were greeted by steaming discharges of all shades from the large pipes emanating from chemical plants and the big Mobil refinery planted along what was once a stream.
Sometimes, little islands of poisonous white foam 2 feet high floated in the Buffalo River, only to dissipate downstream.
Every night, boaters and householders along the Lake Erie shoreline were entertained when train loads of poisonous, molten slag were dumped into Lake Erie by Bethlehem Steel. Lighting up the sky, this flow of hot lava could be seen all the way from Dunkirk, and Port Dover, Ont.
Housewives of that day in South Buffalo and Lackawanna took care not to hang their wash out to dry when the winds were west-northwest lest their clothes be coated with red dust from the steel mills.
Fish kills in the millions were commonplace.
Now Trump, arguing states rights, wants to cut the already depleted EPA budget by 31 percent and fire thousands of the EPA’s enforcement and research workers.
Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, says the Trump plan would effectively end the EPA’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative designed to repair our rivers and lakes after more than a century of industrial exploitation. Higgins has noted there are 285 GLRI projects in New York State alone.
The money is needed to fight invasive species like the Asian Carp, and combat fertilizer runoff that spawns blooms of algae choking some of the streams feeding into Lake Erie.
Senate Democratic Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer said, “it would be wrong to take this meat ax to cost-effective and effective programs like GLRI.
“Most Americans didn’t vote to ease up on polluters and leave themselves with dirtier water and air. They certainly didn’t vote to make all these cuts so that this administration can hand out a tax break to the wealthiest Americans.”
Trump’s budget, for no reason other than to appease the climate deniers on hate radio, rolls us back to the bad old days when industry will be allowed to make America filthy again.