As published in the Record Journal, Sunday July 24, 2011
This week’s FROM WALLINGFORD was written by Stephen Knight.
Covanta, the operator of the Wallingford trash-to-energy plant, is handing over $400,000 to the State of Connecticut as a result of its plant having emitted levels of dioxins at twice the permitted level, according to an article in the July 16th Record-Journal. $400,000 that the company could have and should have used to prevent the problem in the first place now goes to Hartford. Half will go right to the general fund and the other half direct to DEEP for them to use in a “project to enhance environmental protection or conserve natural resources.” Read: to sustain the bureaucracy.
But the story does not end here, and this is where the residents of Wallingford should take note. In an almost “oh, by the way” manner, the article tips us off to the most onerous provision of this settlement: “The settlement also stipulates that the entire plant be shut down the next time an emissions violation is found.”
Here we wander into “the law of unintended consequences” territory, where big government and preening politicians so, so often find themselves – and we dragged right along with them. No doubt DEEP Commissioner Daniel C. Esty thinks of himself as one tough hombre for nailing this big, evil business (those previous two words are synonyms at the DEEP) and forcing them to sign a document pledging to commit corporate hari kari should their people make another error operating the plant. That’ll show ’em! But now think about the real consequences here. Covanta somehow screws up and another release occurs. In rides sheriff Esty and his posse of pasty-faced bureaucrats and they actually shut down this plant. Now what? We’re not talking about a package store caught selling beer to teenagers here. Shut that down and only the owners suffer the consequences. Shut this plant down and now five towns have to find a way to dispose of the trash generated by over two hundred thousand people.
This plant was built and operated for the purpose of incinerating thousands of tons of trash every month. It was placed here because Wallingford is centrally located and therefore all this stuff can be transported most cost-effectively. Pull the plug on this plant and all this material must be trucked elsewhere at much greater cost. And who do you suppose ultimately pays for that? One guess.
And this assumes that there is a place nearby for all this material, which there is not. So now it gets trucked out of state. Now we’ve defeated the whole point of having the plant in the first place – to reduce the volume of the trash in order to reduce the amount of transportation required to get rid of it all. And those trucks all emit what? One guess.
Here’s another consequence: The Town of Wallingford receives over $1 million per year for hosting the facility. Okay, the plant gets shut down. No plant? No payment. And who do you suppose ultimately pays for that loss? One guess.
My point is this: we expect significant consequences for those that do not comply with these regulations. But take-no-prisoners decisions like this tell us that the mission of protecting the environment has been supplanted. Because the State of Connecticut is populated with people who have a visceral, deep-seated hostility toward business and industry, sticking it to business and forcing them to their knees to bow low to the state has become the endgame. And while the agencies and the commissions and the lawyers and the bureaucrats all make their pronouncements and hold their press conferences and announce their “settlements,” all of us in towns like Wallingford are left with the fallout.
By shutting down this plant, Commissioner Esty will have another “Gotcha” trophy to show his fellow environmentalists. But the rest of us here in Wallingford will be left scrambling to deal with the resultant chaos that ensues.