Environmentally Sensitive | Letters | Chicago Reader

Environmentally Sensitive 

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Dear Letters Editor:

It's truly unfortunate that reporter Adam Langer ("Raising a Stink," August 1) chose to characterize the activities of the Good Neighbor Committee as being based on fear and anger rather than backed by hard facts. Langer spent hours in our office going through the files that Citizens for a Better Environment (CBE) has amassed during the two and a half years we have served as technical advisors to the Good Neighbor Committee (not members, as Langer states). Since Langer knows that CBE has shared virtually all the information we have with the committee and worked to help them understand it, he knows better.

Are Good Neighbor Committee members fearful and angry? Of course they are. You would be too if you lived near an industrial facility that spews the barrage of chemicals that Clark does into Blue Island's environment. Are committee members struggling to understand how an oil refinery operates? Of course they are, and it's not easy. But that's why CBE is there--to help level the playing field. With our help, Good Neighbor Committee members know if they're being given a "snow job" when platitudes about plant safety come from Clark's spokespersons, like Syd Wiley. CBE's own staff not only has both engineering and scientific expertise, but because of the large network of groups with whom we regularly collaborate we have been able to bring some of the best environmental expertise in the country to Blue Island. This includes three out of the four environmental group representatives who have been chosen to serve on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Petroleum Sector Common Sense Initiative--all of them highly respected.

This technical and scientific expertise was also available to Langer for the asking. We could have answered Langer's questions regarding the material in our files or anything else relating to the community struggle with Clark, had he asked. We could have provided him with additional sources to provide independent verification of our position on the issues. Unfortunately, while he may have spent time reviewing our files, he failed to follow up with questions about what the information means. Thus the end result was yet another cliched story about emotional activists who are short on facts but have moxie versus scientifically-credible-but-have-difficulty-communicating corporate officials, instead of the more subtle but more complete story of some reluctant activists' attempts to bring democracy into the closed world of corporate decision-making.

Insofar as Langer's story did deal with the facts presented by the Good Neighbor Committee, much attention was paid to Clark's dismissal of those facts, or complaints about their accuracy. However, if Clark's Syd Wiley has a problem with the environmental groups' data, he should look right in his own backyard, since much of the information comes straight from Clark itself, or from the governmental entities that regulate Clark.

Finally, it's really unfortunate that--with the problems that abound at Clark and the good-faith effort that so many citizens are making to get Clark to make the Blue Island facility safer and less polluting--Langer chose to focus so much of his article on really meaningless dialogues that occurred between this person or that. In fact, it's really too bad that Langer didn't take a bit of his own advice and stick more to the facts. Had he done so, he would have had the chance to explore a number of very important issues: the limited ability of science to definitively answer questions regarding the relationship between environmental pollution and community health, the question of whether or not existing governmental regulations are adequate to protect public health or if they are fundamentally misguided, or the tension that exists in a democracy when corporate decisions are unaccountable to anyone but Wall Street and when those affected by the decisions seek to develop accountability mechanisms.

These are the issues that Langer missed in his she said/he said article. Too bad, because your readers (including CBE staff) expect more than cliches from your writers when they're given huge amounts of space in which to cover an issue.

Joanna Hoelscher

Director, Illinois Office

Citizens for a Better Environment

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