WHITE TRASH

14 02 2010

There has been good news and bad news in Tennessee in the last couple of weeks.  Some of the bad news is that our dear governor, not content with throwing poor people off Tenncare, has decided to throw poor hospitals off it, too.  Under his plan, struggling hospitals like Nashville General, and many rural hospitals, will not be reimbursed more than $10,000 for any Tenncare patient they take care of.  Now, I’m not about to defend hospital price schemes, or many hospital practices, for that matter, but overpriced and unintuitive as it is, our current medical regime works hard to save people’s lives and ease their pain. Setting broken bones is setting broken bones, whether you do Reiki on the patient afterwards or not.  Hospitals do have a legal and moral obligation to take care of people (and yes I know a lot of horror stories about what has happened when, for insurance reasons, they don’t), and if the state quits reimbursing them for that care, the net result over a few years is going to be fewer hospitals and less medical care for those on the bottom of our societal pyramid.

And, speaking of those on the bottom of the social pyramid, let’s talk some real trash, and more good news/bad news, like, the good news is, Tennessee leads the Southeast in the amount of landfill material we count as recycled….the bad news is that that appears to be the case only because we jigger our statistics, and everybody knows it, and a regional EPA representative who showed up at last week’s Davidson County Solid Waste Board meeting and at the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) review hearing said that our funny accounting makes us “the laughingstock” of the Southeastern solid waste disposal community….a “solid waste disposal community?”…who knew?  But I digress….

Tennessee claims a remarkably high percentage of diversion from landfills, which is presumed to be “recycling,” but it seems that our near-70% figure (most states are in the 25% range) has been achieved by creating construction and demolition (C&D) landfills around the state and counting material that ends up in them instead of  trash landfills as “diverted from the landfill.”  As you may remember, there’s a big quarry out on McCrory Lane that some big operators wanted to fill with C&D trash…right next to the Harpeth River.  Well, we kept that mistake from happening, but there are  over 80 other C&D landfills in the state, and more bad news–due to Tennessee’s geology, almost all of them leak, as do almost all of our regular landfills.

More bad news–guess who tends to live near landfills?  Why, poor people, wouldn’t ya know, rural poor people who get their water from wells and springs that are all too often contaminated by runoff from these landfills…so then they need Tenncare to help cover the sometimes awful consequences of imbibing low levels of serious pollutants, but, gee, the Guv just cut their access to Tenncare….round and round we go….gotta pay for those roads, y’know….

Hey, I’m not just some radical conspiracy theorist making this stuff up.  That EPA guy I mentioned, Jon Johnston, called the pattern of dump sites in Tennessee “racist.”  It seems to me that if somebody from the government says something is “racist,” that kind of makes it official, doesn’t it?  So…all the trash generated by us rich white folks ends up poisoning low-income people of color, just like all the carbon we white folks spew is baking and inundating…dark-complexioned people in third world countries….is there a pattern here?

OK, good news–it looks like TDEC has finally been shamed into closing the C&D loophole….bad news, the C&D dumps that are still open get to stay open, and will keep leaching nasties into the water table.  At least the building boom is over.

Some further peculiarities of Tennessee waste disposal law have to do with food waste and its potential as animal feed and compost.

The average grocery store discards about a thousand pounds of unsaleable produce and other over-age food every week.  Used to be, farmers could take this and feed it to their animals, no problem.  But the garbage haulers looked at this, and they had a problem.  They wanted to get paid to haul that “food waste” to their landfills, so they had the state pass a regulation that said that all food waste must be heated to 140 degrees before it could be fed to farm animals.  Farmers, by and large, are not equipped to do this, and so the garbage haulers stopped a reasonable recycling program and fattened their own wallets, as well as increasing the load on Tennessee landfills.

They also tweaked the regulations on making compost out of this material, i.e., feeding it to worms, the only kind of livestock exempted from the 140 degree requirement.  They wrote the law so that you could bring anything in to your farm, but made it illegal to sell compost, classifying it as “toxic waste.”

The good news is, it looks like a lot of this is about to change.  There’s two kinds of green consciousness involved:   Greenback consciousness, and green living consciousness.

Greenback consciousness is about all the money it’s costing to bury recyclables in landfills.  Bruce Wood, who has devoted decades to advocating for saner solid waste policies, estimates that a quarter of what is “thrown away” in Nashville (and I put that in quotes because there is no “away”), a quarter of Nashville’s solid waste is compostable, and another quarter is paper.  Composting and recycling this material, Bruce calculates, would save Nashville thirty thousand dollars a day in hauling and dumping fees, as well as creating useful, valuable compost and paper that doesn’t come from sacrificing trees. Thirty thousand dollars a day…that’s a hundred and fifty thou a week, someplace around seven and a half million dollars a year…like I said, greenback consciousness has a certain leverage.

Let me put this another way to help you understand the scale of this.  A thousand tons, two million pounds, of compostable materials enter Nashville’s waste stream every week.  Handled properly, this could produce about 330 tons of finished compost per week.  Wouldn’t that make this city’s gardens grow!?

More good news.  The solid waste folks have confessed that their stringent regulations on composting are based on sewage sludge handling procedures, and that there needs to be a separate, much looser category for “vegetative compost.”

The problem with sewage sludge isn’t from what you’re supposed to put in your toilet, although mixing that with water does make it nastier than it has to be.  The problem comes from the myth of “throwing things away,” and all the toxic substances that people “throw away” that end up at the sewage treatment plant.

Out of the toilet and back to “vegetative compost”–it looks like we’re not just talking theory here.  Recycling activist Glenn Christman, who has been working to get a municipal composting operation off the ground (well, on the ground, really) for several years, reports that Metro’s Public Works Department has offered him five acres for a pilot program, and that TSU, while still reeling from being used by the Maytown Center gang, is ready to launch a program that will compost all the University’s food waste for use by the school’s ag department.

Meanwhile, Waste Management Incorporated, which has been the bad guy behind the restrictive regulations I have been describing, has realized that there is money to be made in compost, and has become a major investor in “Harvest Power,” a company that is planning to set up and manage municipal composting operations all over North America.  I’m not clear why this needs to be done by private, for profit industry, but  in a capitalist economy it’s a good sign, as long as the boys from WMI don’t start putting their competitors through the compost choppers….

music:  Drive-by Truckers, “Puttin’ People on the Moon”





AS IF THERE WILL BE NO DELUGE…

10 05 2009

A number of bits of local news and commentary have come to my attention lately:  Mayor Dean’s “State of the City” address, the report of the Green Ribbon Committee for a Sustainable Nashville, news that the “reform” of Tennessee’s waste management policies is not only a shambles but a sham, and the renewed push for construction of Maytown Center, along with the howls of misguided (or intentionally misleading) protest that accompanied my characterization of its neo-feudal potential last month.

Hizzoner the Mayor used his moment in the spotlight to push for a new Nashville Convention Center, a sort of “build it and they will come,” Hail Mary pass proposal that has been so thoroughly excoriated by the Nashville Scene that I hardly need to go into detail here, except to answer their “what are they smoking?” question with, “must be crack, ’cause any self-respecting pot smoker would see through this welfare-for-developers proposal in a minute.”  I would also add that anybody who thinks any kind of tourism is going to make a comeback is inhaling the wrong kind of smoke.  The only big influx that I see in Nashville’s, or America’s, future, is Chinese and various Middle Easterners coming to repossess whatever they can in consideration of America’s unrepayable debt to them.  The “T” in “T-bills” is gonna stand for “toilet paper,” boys and girls.  Can you say “Confederate money”?

And, speaking of smoking crack, I have to repeat and re-emphasize that anyone who thinks Maytown Center is going to be good for Nashville is still living in the delusionary world of the Bush era.  Growth is over.  If it is built, Maytown will either rapidly turn into a ghost town or suck the air out of the rest of the city and become a gated version of downtown, so the upper crust doesn’t have to cross paths with the homeless.

We would be much better off using the energy that the city’s movers and shakers are putting into these mirages to fast-track and expand some of the proposals in the Green Ribbon Committee’s report, which is at least well-intentioned, if woefully under-ambitious.  I feel bad about having to say that.  I know some of the people on the Committee, and I trust their good will. I went to one of their public meetings, and I think the document they have produced is radical and edgy–for 1975.  At this point, it is too little, too late.    Can we create a sustainable local economy that will support our current population?  Can we produce enough hoes and digging forks for everybody to turn up the ground it will take to keep ourselves in potatoes, let alone manufacture  our own shoes and clothing? Ain’t none of that happening here in Nashvegas any more, — how many weavers and cobblers are there in this town?  We sold our industrial capacity to the Chinese for a mess of profit, and we are about to find out that money is nothing but funny-looking paper once everybody agrees it’s worthless.

The landfill proposals that so outrage my friends at BURNT (Bring Urban Recycling to Nashville Today) are another head-shaker, another high-stakes poker game, played with a marked deck, in the tilting first-class lounge of the Titanic.  Of course, as James Howard Kunstler points out in World Made By Hand, all the recyclables we stick in landfills now are a kind of savings account that we will be able to mine in coming decades, when we will be out of natural resources and the ability to acquire them through commerce, and will have nothing better to do than dig up old city dumps, straighten bent nails, melt down and recast plastic and metal, and treasure the one or two chemists in our city who figure out how to make matches from local materials–because all those disposable lighters we take for granted are gonna be a thing of the past in the future, folks.  Do I have to remind you that you are going to have to cook with a wood fire, unless you’re lucky enough to have a solar cooker and a sunny day? And where will you be gathering your firewood?

Oh, and speaking of rigged poker games on the Titanic, our newly-Republican legislature is attempting to make sure that we don’t switch to optical-scan voting machines in time for the next election, presumably so they can rig it more easily, since they are doing such a patently bad job of running the state that they know they won’t be able to win an honest election…not that the Dims would be much better, it’s just a question of who controls what’s left of the state’s treasury.   Well, OK…the Dims would be doing nothing instead of forbidding local living wage laws, allowing people to carry guns everywhere and restricting abortion rights. “Respect for human life”? HELLO?

As all the various antics listed above indicate, either both parties are clueless about the scope of what we’re in for in this country, or they are figuring the best way to survive is to cut as many people out of the loop as possible.  If national politics are any guide, I would say the Repuglyicans are trying to cut as many of us out of the loop as they can (leaving more goodies for themselves), and the Dim-ocrats are simply clueless.  In this state, most seem to think the best strategy is to try and be as conservative as the Repugs, but since they lack the intense commitment to self-aggrandizement that characterizes so many Repugs, they end up coming across as clueless namby-pambys, which is one reason (besides ignorance and its bastard child, racism) they have been fluffing so many elections lately–like, it wasn’t just that Harold Ford is black, it’s that he’s barely to the left of Bob Corker. Not only is Harold no Jesse Jackson, he’s not even a Barack Obama.

Let me make something clear here–I  am as threatened as anyone by the future I foresee.  Western civilization as we know it needs to end for the planetary ecosystem (including humans) to continue, and I, an aging man with health problems, may not survive the change.  With that in mind, I want to make that transition as smooth as I can, so I am living as simply as I can, and supporting organizations that I believe will help cushion our descent, like our local bioregional council and the Tennessee Green Party.  As long as we have a functioning statewide political system (and I am not going to hazard a guess on how long that may be), we need to take advantage of it and use the framework of the Green Party to raise real issues:  local sustainability, resource conservation, universal access to health care, economic justice, and grass-roots democracy, to name the first few broad headings that come to mind.  There is SO much to do, and we’re  running the Green Party of Tennessee with a skeleton crew–so come on aboard, there’s plenty of room.

music:  Eliza Gilkyson, “Unsustainable





THE PEOPLE SPEAK

9 04 2006

The majority of the two hundred and fifty people attending an “informational meeting” about a proposed landfill in Bellevue were strongly opposed to the project. As a result, it probably won’t happen. The meeting, called and chaired by Rep. Gary Moore, drew an overflow crowd to Bellevue Middle School auditorium. Attendees, many bearing “NO DUMP” placards handed out by dump opponents outside the hall, first listened to (and heckled) a well-crafted power point presentation by the dump’s proponents followed by a simple rebuttal from Dorrie Bolze of the Harpeth River Watershed Association: it’s illegal for the simple reason that it’s potentially dangerous, so don’t do it. There’s no way to clean up a polluted water table.

The crowd largely shared her sentiment, and echoed it in one way or another throughout the evening. The dump’s advocates are asking for an amendment to the State Scenic Rivers Act that will allow them to fill this former quarry with about four million yards of construction and demolition waste over the next ten years, and then turn the leveled land over to the state for park and recreation purposes–and some condos. They want to clean up this attractive nuisance, this tragedy waiting to happen. A noble purpose, although little mention was made of the approximately thirty million dollars in dump fees the project will gross over its history–not to mention proceeds from the condominiums “Yeah, we’re in it to make a profit,” spokesman Crom Carmichael admitted. “Aren’t we all?”

This “everybody else is doing it, so why can’t we?” attitude seemed to be at the heart of Carmichael’s case. At one point he produced a map of the Harpeth valley showing all the major point sources of pollution that flow into the river, challenging opponents of his plan to go after all the other polluters on the river. Not a bad idea, actually…. At another point he produced a chart showing that the water currently in the quarry is cleaner than the water in the river flowing by the quarry. He seemed to think this would justify creating another potential point source for pollution, but this logic failed to impress the crowd, one of whom shouted out, “The river’s polluted there because of all the crud washing into it from the Riverwalk development!”

This prompted Rep. Moore to ask the audience to please be courteous and allow Mr. Carmichael to finish his presentation. It was not the only time he had to make that request. Most but not all of the interruptions were from those against the dump, but at one point when someone was talking about the obligation of the current owners to secure the property against being an attractive nuisance, and referred to “the millions of dollars they have made from this quarry,” a representative of the current landowner called out, “Since when have you been my accountant?”

One surprise for anti-landfill campaigners was the advocates’ enlistment of Odell Binkley as a potential manager for the project. Odell operates a similar landfill on the floodplain of the Stones River on the other side of Nashville, and is highly regarded for the quality of his operation there. He was also one of the major movers in the effort to close down Nashville’s notorious downtown thermal plant. He is probably the most conscientious person available for the position, but even he had to admit, in response to residents’ repeated concerns about the potential for river pollution, “God’s the only one who can guarantee anything,” and God is not being offered the management of this landfill. Moreover, Karl Meyer reported to me that Binkley admitted to him after the meeting that he was still negotiating with the Carmichael crew about the terms of his management, that Carmichael and friends were having a hard time with some of the standards Binkley wanted to enforce, and were only offering him a five-year contract on the ten-year project.

I suspect that some of their difficulty comes from the recycling dilemma. posed by the project’s ten-year deadline. It is possible to recycle up to around 90% of what gets brought to C&D landfills, especially if you have someone who will take recycled material for fill rather than digging it out of someplace new. According to John vanderHarst, a well known Nashville recycling authority, Binkley recycles about 25% of what comes into his Stones River landfill. That ain’t 90%, but it’s better than Metro’s paltry 2.5%, or the complete lack of recycling at Southern Services, another major player in the Nashville trash game.

But the Newsom Pointe landfill people (“Newsom Pointe Reclamation Project” is the formal name for the dump proposal) are trying to fill their hole in just ten years. The traffic they will need to achieve this goal—it will take a truck every six minutes, eight hours a day, five days a week, for ten years, to fill the quarry with no recycling—is similar to what Mr. Binkley’s landfill on the east side of town is taking in from the whole county already, and with U.S. economic indicators raising red flags all over the place, the future of development on the west side of Nashville could be pretty iffy, and with that, the reality of actually filling this hole could vanish with the value of the dollar. So, it is in their best interests to recycle as little as possible, to make sure they make their deadline.

In response to repeated questioning, Carmichael said that if the ten-year deadline was looming and the quarry was not full, they would have to buy fill dirt from somewhere to finish it off—that, it seems, is one object of the ten million dollar bond they would be required to post before commencing operations. “How far is ten million dollars gonna go when diesel fuel hits ten dollars a gallon?” one resident demanded. Carmichael didn’t seem to understand the question.

Another way they could forfeit their bond is by polluting local ground water. Testing for interconnectivity between the quarry and the river still has not been done, but the quarry is almost certainly connected with the local water table, and many people in the area still get their water from wells. Mr. Binkley assured residents that, once the quarry was pumped out, the landfill would heat up enough to evaporate any water that entered it before it reached the bottom and carried potential pollutants from the landfill into the water table, citing his experience at Stone’s River for reference, but the audience did not seem convinced. After all, it was Mr. Binkley himself who said only God can guarantee anything. One audience member with an engineering background said that he understood that about 43% of all clay landfill liners leak, while another said he had been told in engineering school that all earthen dams leak. (I should point out that lining the stone pit with an “impermeable” clay liner is part of the Newsom Pointe plan.)

Carmichael also stressed the attractive nuisance danger of the currently abandoned quarry, as well as the fact that it has become a site for completely unregulated dumping. Area residents responded that it is the current landowner’s responsibility to stop this, and it doesn’t take turning the site into a landfill to make it more secure. Besides, there are two abandoned quarries in the state park across the street, and they’re tourist attractions, in spite of being nowhere near as spectacular as the Newsome Point quarry.

Representatives of the current owner (an elderly woman) said that if conversion of the quarry into a dump was not approved, they would reopen it as a quarry. In the meeting, they claimed that they still had all the permits they need for this, but Dana Coleman of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation said in an email, “the site no longer has a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit and would therefore be required to submit an application as though it were a new site.”

Such an application would require public hearings and, given the increasingly residential nature of the area, would meet just as much opposition, at least, as the landfill proposal. You can bet residents will be even more upset about dynamite than they are about construction and demolition waste.

At the end of the long line of people with questions was a local minister, who started talking about how much misinformation was circulating in the room and how there had been several public meetings called about the landfill that had attracted no attention. He seemed to be launching into a sermon on the benefits of the proposal when Rep. Moore interrupted him, asking “Do you have a question, sir?”

“No,” the minister replied, “I just wanted to make some remarks….”

“This is an informational meeting. We’re not asking people to speak up for or against the proposal. Please sit down.” Polite but firm. Thank you, Rep. Moore.

Representative Moore and Senator Henry, as well as Charles Graves of TDEC, all said in conclusion that,while they respected the good intentions of Mr. Carmichael and Mr. Binkley, they felt it would set a bad precedent to allow such a variance to the Scenic Rivers Act, and opposed the proposal. The manager of the Kingston Springs water system, which takes water from the Harpeth just a few miles below the quarry, had already voiced his concerns. Mayor Purcell’s office has announced that they see no need for another C&D landfill in Davidson County.

Charlie Tygard, the local Metro Council member who has advocated in favor of the project and was expected at the meeting, had phoned in his regrets to the organizers and gone to a hockey game instead, an announcement which drew hoots of derision from his assembled constituents.

The crowd left the auditorium with the feeling that there will not be a landfill in their back yard. With opposition from both local members of the state legislature, the City of Nashville, and TDEC, it seems at this point that the Harpeth River dump is dead in the water, so to speak. Maybe democracy still works.

music: “We Can Run (but we can’t hide)” by The Grateful Dead





DUMP DA DUMP DUMP

12 03 2006

The once-quiet attempt to sneak a for-profit landfill into that old quarry site on the banks of the Harpeth has been getting a lot of publicity lately. There will be a community meeting at Bellevue Middle School at 6:30 PM on Thursday, March 30, with Rep. Moore, Sen. Henry, and probably several other members of state and local government. A corps of volunteers is distributing anti-dump fliers to area residents, the neighborhood newspaper and a local TV station have done features on it. I am very happy to see all this action. Makes me think there’s hope for the country yet.

The current owners and would-be buyers of the site (it turns out that their offer to buy is contingent on approval of the site as a dump) are threatening to reopen it as a quarry if the dump proposal gets stopped. I guess they think we have short memories—when they went before the Solid Waste Board back in December, they were SO concerned about how dangerous the open pit quarry was and so unctuous about what a great public service they would be doing by filling it in (which, it turns out, could bring them about thirty million dollars). Now they’re willing to make it deeper and more dangerous if they don’t get their way. Reminds me of a certain chief executive I know…..

But that threat is pretty hollow—since the quarry has been closed, it has lost its permit, and the quarry permitting process is even more bureaucratic and fraught with pitfalls than the dump process, from what I hear, and would certainly be less popular with the neighbors. Even people who don’t care about 200,000 dump trucks might get upset about daily dynamite—know what I mean?

Furthermore, there’s two technical details that they’re up against. The most obvious is the roughly two million gallons of water in the bottom of the quarry. I don’t think they’d be able to get a permit to pump it into the Harpeth River, and there’s no place else for it to go. The second is that, apparently, one of the reasons the quarry closed in the first place is that the Tennessee Department of Transportation decided that the quality of rock coming out of this quarry was too poor to use in road construction.

I must admit, that one surprised me. I had no idea TDOT had quality standards about ANYTHING. By the way, did you know that there’s a bill snaking its way through the Tennessee legislature that will enable TDOT to resume its program to pave over the entire state? It’s called “An Act to Amend the Tennessee Code Annotated, Titles 3, 4, and 54 relative to transportation.” What a mouthful. I bet they called it that to discourage people from contacting their representatives and complaining about it.

This bill would set up a committee of the legislature that will oversee the distribution of pork—excuse me, I mean the construction of new highways, and severely limit the amount of TDOT’s overample budget that can be spent on mass transit in the cities where most of us live and pay gas taxes. As if the price of gas isn’t about to hit black-market levels. Haven’t you noticed that the cost of a full gas tank and the cost of a bag of pot are approaching parity? The cluelessness of people in power continues to amaze and dismay me. But, I digress….

This dump is not likely to go through if enough people contact Sen. Henry (sen.douglas.henry@legislature.state.tn.us) and Rep. Moore(rep.gary.moore@legislature.state.tn.us) and object, and if plenty of people show up at Bellevue Middle School, 655 Colice-Jean Road, at 6:30 PM on Thursday, March 30. Senators Henry and Haynes (the sponsor of this measure) will be there, as will Rep. Moore, Metro Councilman Charlie Tygard, Jim Fyke from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, and who knows who else. Please be there if you can. Bellevue Middle School, 655 Colice-Jean Road, runs south off Harding Rd. just past old Hickory. See you there!

music: Pointer Sisters, “Yes We Can Can”  (sorry, all i could find was a Harry Connick version!)








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