Wasilla’s Toxic Cloud and Why We Need ‘the Feds.’
To listen to Sarah Palin talk about “the feds” and how Alaskans don’t need them mucking around in our business, you’d think she’d have a pretty clean back yard. If you don’t need the feds, it must mean that your state and local government are doing a bang-up job, right? Any additional meddling from the government is just going to mess up the good thing we have going on a state and local level. We can handle things just fine, thank you very much.
In the case of Alaska, not so, and a case in point is Sarah Palin’s own back yard.
On a local level, there is nowhere that seems to have more of a “we don’t need the feds” attitude than the governor’s home town of Wasilla. Some rethinking may be necessary. Until last week, on Knik Goose Bay Road was a small family-operated waste disposal business, ironically named “Safety Waste Incineration”. The operation had only two employees, the couple who lived on the property, and their company disposed of medical and other hazardous waste through incineration.
It seems that for years, this business was operating outside of federal Clean Air Act requirements. Federal requirements? Are these just more rules and regulations designed to annoy independent Alaskans, and make us beholden to powers Outside who think they know better than us?
In this case it means that the owners of the business, who had been promising to get their incinerators into federal compliance since 2001, didn’t do it. Hazardous medical waste was being burned, and according to court documents, “uncontrolled hospital and medical/infectious waste incinerators released significant quantities of dioxins, heavy metals, acid gases and other air pollutants. EPA also found that these pollutants posed significant risks to public welfare and the environment, and that hospital/medical/infectious waste incinerators were a significant source of such emissions.” The owners of the facility had violated the code for years, and misrepresented their attempts to get the facility into compliance with federal requirements.
So for years, residents of Wasilla and the surrounding area have unknowingly been breathing a toxic blend of cancer-causing dioxins, and heavy metal contaminants including mercury, cadmium, lead and other pollutants. It was determined that this home-based facility committed 7,336 violations of the Clean Air Act, and the place has now been closed down. As of July 1, the air got a little cleaner over Wasilla, courtesy of “the feds.”
“Without an injunction, the risk of harm to the public and damage to the environment will continue,” noted court documents.
If you took the 7,336 violations and multiplied by $30,000, (an average penalty per violation) the operators of the facility would have owed more than $2 million in penalties. But as a “mom and pop” business, John and Nancy Oliver were fined $75,000, and Safety Waste Incineration was closed down.
Three days later, on the fourth of July, residents of Wasilla met at a local “Tea Party” event to grouse about the federal government, and tell each other how they were perfectly capable of handling their own lives, and their own back yards.
A suggestion to those in Alaska who have problems with “the feds” and support minimal government and deregulation – If that’s going to work, it actually requires paying attention. Lack of oversight and ‘interference’ on the federal level will only work if you decide to take over that job. And by all indications, the average citizen seems pretty lazy when it comes to spending their free time paying attention to government, or even paying attention to what’s going on in their own back yard.
I don’t know if there are any plans for public events like those Tea Parties in Wasilla to thank the EPA and the Department of Justice. But I do know that children in the Valley won’t be breathing heavy metals and dioxins from illegal incinerators any more when they go out to play.
And even though I don’t live in the Valley, and I’m not staging a public event with signs, I’d like to lift a cup of tea and say thanks feds. You done good.
United States v. Oliver, et al._, slip opinion, Civil Action No. 3:06-cv-196 JWS (D. Alaska June 25, 2009) – safetywaste