Violation of the public’s trust

I have written before of the ways that industry and agency have worked together on projects which end with a result of the violation of the public’s trust. Projects which, in the effort to bypass the godawful red tape of public administration, are fast tracked through agency in the purported spirit of allowing industry to be competitive. But those godawful red tape gauntlets of public administration are also meant to keep the public safe. They are meant to keep the lands, the waters, the air – which belong to all of us – safe.

In case you forgot, here is a picture of the 8 million gallon liquefied natural gas tank being built on the Port of Tacoma. A project which has sped through the red tape of public administration spectacularly quickly. A project which has been fast tracked at every stage. An 8 million gallon bomb with an environmental impact study based on information which industry provided. An 8 million gallon disaster brought to fruition by a “culture of yes” in our agencies.

"culture of yes"
Courtesy of Todd Deringer

When we moved to our home, we knew we were buying a house above a working port. It didn’t bother us at the time, because we trusted that public administrators and agencies were watching over industry to make sure that they wouldn’t be poisoning us with pollution, noise and excess light. It turns out, my trust in public administration and agencies was poorly placed. For two years I have been doing everything I can to call attention to the haphazard ways in which agency and industry work together and put the public at risk.

Here is what I have found: agency relies on laws which are so weak that they have no teeth and trusts that industry will behave responsibly.

Industry has worked diligently to weaken environmental protection laws. It’s what they do. In fact, they prefer a world with no regulations. See “Current Federal Administration” for proof.

The public trust in agency and industry is grossly violated.

This article about the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility massive methane leak highlights a key piece of information we should all pay attention to.

“In theory, outside inspectors could have potentially caught some of these safety issues during regular evaluations of the infrastructure. But as the University of Southern California’s report details, that is not how the natural gas storage industry operates in the U.S. Instead, its description of the circumstances leading to the leak reads as much like a recipe for future disaster as an analysis of past failures. Previously, the industry has largely been allowed to self-regulate and the trend continues today.”

The company building the natural gas plant in my community, Puget Sound Energy, has a bad track record for caring about their impacts on communities and behaves irresponsibly with the infrastructure for which they are responsible. But they aren’t the only bad actors.

Yet as detailed in the GAO audit, PHMSA did not require this practice in its proposed safety rule because the American Petroleum Institute, the oil and gas industry’s largest trade group, claimed “its recommended practices do not direct operators to phase out such wells because this practice may not significantly improve safety in all cases.”

As a result, regulators have chosen to ignore a federally created safety task force in favor of following the advice of oil and gas industry lobbyists. But to fully appreciate the audacity of the lobbying group’s claim that shut-off valves don’t necessarily improve well safety, you need to know the argument made to back up this claim.

Below is a map of pipeline spills between 2006 and 2016. This is the result of an industry that cares more about quarterly revenues than healthy people and environment, and isn’t held to account by any regulator in any meaningful way.


Below is a map of the river basins in the US.


This is what our agencies are supposed to be protecting, on our behalf and in preparation of future generations. Agency is not watching out for our best interests. The faith in their laws is thread-bare, at best. Industry knows this and has tons and tons of money stashed away to influence public opinion and the opinions of our lawmakers.

This I know – truth is power. And I’m no longer naive about what agency is doing to protect our health and environment. We have the power to change the way industry navigates through our lands, waters and air. It’s in our voices and in our hearts. But you have to speak up and you have to make it known that we MUST do better.

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