Sunday, April 11, 2010

Craig Collins' "Toxic Loopholes"

Craig Collins earned his Ph.D. at the University of California, Davis. He now teaches at California State University, East Bay.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Toxic Loopholes: Failures and Future Prospects for Environmental Law, and reported the following:
As an instructor of environmental law I was perpetually dissatisfied with the available texts because they avoided answering two essential questions:

• How well are our major environmental laws working?

• What prevents them from achieving their stated goals?

I decided to address these questions by writing my own “un-textbook.” In doing so, I tried to avoid the non-committal, austere, academic prose that forces students to consume copious amounts of coffee to avoid text-induced narcolepsy. Also, I abandoned all pretense of being a detached, disinterested academic and wrote instead as an outraged citizen of planet Earth.

By adopting this heart-felt stance I realize I leave myself open to criticism for being too partisan or “unbalanced.” So let me be clear. The balance I seek is not academic or political. It is ecological. The evidence is overwhelming: our economic and political systems are perilously out of balance with the planet and ecologically unsustainable. While our current environmental laws buy us some time, ultimately they are little more than a palliative--a bandage on a gaping wound.

Page 99 falls near the middle of my chapter on toxic waste laws like Superfund. The top of the page reproduces a bulleted list of the scathing criticisms leveled by a conference of neighborhood leaders fed-up with the EPA’s negligent efforts to clean up the toxic Superfund sites poisoning their communities. I shall quote from their list since it goes to the very heart of Toxic Loopholes’ central message:

Neighborhood leaders charged the EPA with:

• Studying a problem to death without doing anything;

• Ignoring or downplaying health problems and making a haphazard effort to compile and evaluate relevant health information;

• Discriminating against minority communities in nearly every aspect of the Superfund process, including longer response times to contaminations of minority neighborhoods and inequitable resources devoted to cleanups, health monitoring, buy-outs and relocations;

• Meeting secretly with polluters;

• Hiding vital information from the community;

• Ignoring and avoiding community input into the cleanup process;

• Favoring polluters with cheaper, less effective cleanup standards;

• Treating people as case numbers and demonstrating complete bureaucratic insensitivity to their stress, suffering and pain.

This list on page 99 is one small part of the factual evidence and the real life stories that have convinced me that America’s environmental laws, and the agencies that enforce them, are woefully inadequate. Powerful forces, emanating from the very nature of our political economy, confound the basic intent of the law and corrupt the policy-making and law enforcement process. The EPA is a fundamentally flawed agency embedded in a capitalist society where the most powerful economic actors wish to continue externalizing their environmental costs and their allies in government (from both parties) facilitate this by passing toothless laws and appointing compromised and corrupt enforcers.
Read an excerpt from Toxic Loopholes, and learn more about the book at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue