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Wasted Opportunities


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To the editors:

The article entitled "What a Waste!" [September 28] was indeed a waste. What was thrown away was not a major opportunity for sound environmental legislation, as author Harold Henderson claims, but an opportunity for Mr. Henderson to let his readers in on some information about how dirty deals are made in this state when it comes to environmental issues. Mr. Henderson has often written on the environment, so it was all the more surprising to see how wide of the mark his article fell and how much of a disservice he has done to the thousands of grassroots folks in Illinois who care about their health, the health of their families and democratic decision-making.

Mr. Henderson wasted an opportunity to let readers know what had so angered environmentally concerned citizens throughout the state about the process his article described. He never discussed the substance of the siting law being developed by the task force. The whole purpose of the bill (which is about to be re-introduced in the November session) is to override local veto power when it comes to landfills and incinerators so that local folks could not say no to such facilities. In a state where so many elected representatives are jingling around in the pockets of the waste disposal industry, such a law would give carte blanche to Waste Management and their ilk to pepper suburban and downstate counties with dangerous, polluting facilities. Such a law would obviate any attempt to reduce, reuse and recycle--the only economically viable and environmentally sound solutions.

Harold Henderson threw away other opportunities to talk about industry domination over waste management decisions in Illinois. He never questioned why one of the most prominent lobbyists for that industry was assigned to the chairmanship of a government task force. Surely that is a big piece of the story! The fact that the City of Chicago supports legislation making it easier to site facilities downstate was also glossed over. Why isn't Chicago's reluctance to recycle and their desire to ship garbage to others' backyards worthy of Mr. Henderson's attention?

Most upsetting, though, is the fact that, while liberally knocking grassroots activists for not sitting down at the table to deal away their democratic rights, he quotes not one of them in the entire article. Several white men from Chicago are quoted, none of whom represents the grassroots environmental movement in this state which consists of rural, blue collar, downstate, south suburban, African-American, low-income, elderly and other folks who, in growing numbers, are asserting their right to an environment free of toxic pollution and consequent health threats. Mr. Henderson sprinkles his article with sentences deriding these folks for not "cutting a deal," "sitting at the table," "gaining clout" and "engineering a compromise." In so doing, he would seem to be out of touch with certain realities.

In fact, the fastest growing social justice movement in the nation is the grassroots movement for environmental justice. The 5000 local activist groups in this country represent an exciting new force. Compromise, sitting at the table and cutting deals have not led to any relief from environmental disaster in the past twenty years. To be sure, the threats from toxic contamination of our air, water, food and land have increased. This movement, therefore, is predicated on the whole-hearted assertion of our right to a planet where cancer, birth defects, reproductive failure and numerous neurological, immune system, respiratory and other illnesses will not continue to be the public health effects of private corporate decisions. People are demanding that governmental officials stand up to industry and demand a clean environment. Cutting deals doesn't make it anymore. No one is willing to gamble on the health of a child and the well-being of a whole community.

It is this sensibility that has motivated the grassroots activists in Illinois who are saying "No More Deals, No Less Democracy." They feel they have a right to decide to recycle, not to incinerate. Interestingly in this regard, Mr. Henderson also gets his facts wrong both on the potential of recycling and the progressive moves made in other states on waste reduction legislation--he spouts the industry line. Most damning, however, is the fact that he really got it wrong on House Bill 4013 and the issues surrounding it. Had he spent less time talking to industry lobbyists and more time talking to the folks in Illinois communities, I'm sure he would have understood both the desire for upholding democracy and the knowledge about sound solid waste management that motivated the grassroots decision.

Sharon Pines

Regional Executive Director

Greenpeace Action

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