By U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom
Fifty years ago America was just waking up to the reality of environmental pollution: Rachel Carson had published Silent Spring, heralding the modern environmental movement and raising America’s consciousness about the impact of DDT pesticide use on the environment and public health. Then in 1969 Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River caught fire due to the oil-soaked debris consuming it and the country’s then-largest oil spill occurred in Santa Barbara, California. The culmination of these events inspired the call for a national day promoting environmental education and lead to the creation of the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970.
That year millions of Americans spanning social, political, and economic spectrums joined together in service and to protest that oil spills, air pollution, raw sewage, toxic dumps, pesticides and wildlife extinction were ruining the American landscapes, waterways and skies. This movement led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species Acts enacted by Congress and signed into law by President Richard Nixon. Further legislation soon followed to address the nation’s drinking water supply, hazardous waste management and toxic waste cleanups.
Enforcement of these laws has transformed rivers like the Cuyahoga from oily waste streams into waterways teeming with fish and wildlife habitats and has made the air we breathe and the water we drink cleaner. In conjunction with industries’ many voluntary efforts, enforcement has also jumpstarted innovation, providing greater economic benefits with fewer environmental costs.
Still, there are a staggering number of hazardous sites determined to present
the highest risk to human health or the environment. There are 17 of these EPA designated ‘Superfund Sites’ right here in Kansas, the direct result of an industrial period with no environmental laws, regulations, or enforcement.
They’re hiding in plain sight. We drive past them nearly every day. The list includes:
- 29th and Mead in Wichita
- 57th and North Broadway in Wichita
- Ace Services in Colby
- Arkansas City Dump in Cowley County
- Big River Sand Company in Wichita
- Chemical Commodities, Inc. in Olathe
- Cherokee County, including Galena, Baxter Springs, Treece and other towns.
- Doepke Disposal in Johnson County Fort Riley near Junction City Hydro-Flex, Inc., in Topeka
- John’s Sludge Pond in Wichita
- Obee Road in Reno County
- Plating, Inc. in Great Bend
- Pester Refinery Company in El Dorado
- Strother Field Industrial Park near Winfield and Arkansas City Tri-County Public Airport in Morris County
- Wright Ground Water Contamination in Ford County
If the environmental laws some take for granted today had existed 100 years ago, perhaps Kansas wouldn’t be in this economic and environmental predicament.
What occurs here in Kansas is only a small part of what the Department of Justice (DOJ) is doing. The Kansas U.S. Attorney’s Office and DOJ’s Environmental and Natural Resources Division (ENRD) are working to protect the environment and enhance the quality of life of those adversely affected by the daily air, water and soil pollution by corporations and individuals who fail to comply with environmental regulations.
During the past three years, ENRD has secured nearly $21.1 billion in corrective measures through court orders and settlements in civil enforcement cases; and more than $1.9 billion in civil and stipulated penalties, cost recoveries, natural resource damages, and other civil monetary relief. The criminal and civil enforcement of environmental regulations has significantly reduced the emission and discharge of pollutants and, as a result, promoted and protected the public health and the environment.
Today, Kansas is at a crossroad. Over the past four decades, environmental laws and enforcement have improved the state of our nation, its health and environment, and made the United States a leader in the world. The call for responsible and rational regulation is a legitimate debate we can have, but there is no reason Kansans must choose between a healthy environment and a healthy economy.
As a country we’ve come a long way in the past 50 years and the Kansas U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Department of Justice are committed to the continued enforcement of environmental laws which protect our citizens and our Earth.