Through the 20-some years I"ve written about and worked for Business Democrats, more than one has looked me in the eye and said, "What are environmentalists going to do? Vote Republican?" They haven"t needed enviros since Evan Bayh was elected governor in 1988. They"ve taken them for granted ever since. Over that same time, the Business Ds have accepted staggering amounts of cash from vested interests - like polluters, developers, and the I-69 lobby - while producing the raft of environmental embarrassments highlighted last week by state Republicans on the campaign trail. In a nine-page brief about the O"Bannon-Kernan administration called "A Legacy of Neglect: Sending Indiana Down the Wrong Track," the GOP excerpted recent media reports with the following headlines: Indiana Department of Environmental Management fails to alert Hoosiers of risk of PCB contamination Indiana ranks #2 in dumping untreated sewage into its waterways Quality of Air in 2002 worst since 1988 State ignores U.S. Clean Water Act Three Indiana cities among 10 unhealthiest in the nation
Could Republicans possibly do any worse? Indeed, could it get any worse than that? Well, unfortunately, yes. The details behind these stories make the headlines look like greenwashing. Details like Little Lick Creek, a Blackford County stream where IDEM knows the creek bed is composed of pure sewage sludge. Running along the edge of county seat Hartford City, about 20 miles due north of Muncie, the Little Lick borders a town park. It"s separated from the swings and slides by a one-sided chain-link fence that might keep a kickball out of the water but wouldn"t deter a focused 6-year-old. Several combined sewer overflow outlets upstream from the park divert untreated sewage into this creek every time it rains, even a little. E. coli levels in the water that flows past the town park are at least 24,000 times the allowable levels in Indiana waterways. E. coli is a bacteria whose presence in water indicates the presence of untreated waste. Little Lick Creek is an open sewer in every sense of the word. It"s documented in the record I created at IDEM just two years ago. I"d bet nothing has been done to address the problem. Or details like Keil Chemical in Hammond. Situated in the festering toxic dump Hoosiers call Northwest Indiana, Keil operated without an IDEM permit for 17 years. In 1994, the company entered into binding agreements with IDEM and EPA to reduce releases into the air of two carcinogenic chemicals - ethylene dichloride and vinyl chloride. When government inspectors finally followed up in December 1998, they documented "thousands of violations," in the commissioner"s words. I was shown pictures and told by investigators that these hazardous chemicals dripped from pipes and formed puddles on the floor. The head of the city"s environmental department was hospitalized after visiting the plant, which was surrounded by a cancer cluster. These were but two of what are arguably a countless number of environmental horrors that Business Democrats have ignored during their 16 years in power in Indiana. I wrote a piece for NUVO on the one-year anniversary of the White River fish kill in which I said IDEM answers, in order, to the governor, the Legislature, and business and industry, with the people way down the list. In response, an IDEM scientist wrote me that his top people had spent two weeks preparing a PowerPoint presentation for the Legislature that wasn"t even used. And the Republicans didn"t list headlines from The Bloomington Alternative. If they did, their O"Bannon-Kernan legacy list would include: INDOT: In your face Bloomington, Terre Haute! I-69 consultant, Democrats enrich each other Democrats" historic ties to I-69 Nicol: Public be damned, I-69 decision by year"s end Home wrecking I-69 style
I-69 will be the O"Bannon-Kernan administration"s most toxic legacy, a multi-billion-dollar monument to what one apolitical friend of mine calls "rampant stupidity and greed," what others just call corruption. The fact is, the only thing Business Ds can claim as success these days is their ability to sell their souls at higher prices than Republicans, as demonstrated by news last week that John Fernandez has raised more than a million dollars in his Secretary of State race. All the money they raise, of course, is used for television ads that mislead the public about who they are and whose interests they really serve. And it appears that money is about the only thing that might save the Business Ds from total meltdown as they head for the 2004 gubernatorial elections. A poll of Indianapolis residents published in The Star last week showed Frank O"Bannon"s approval ratings at an all-time low. He"s one of the worst governors in Indiana history, and the public knows it. To show just how morally bankrupt Democrats have become, Fernandez, the most shamelessly opportunistic politician Indiana has seen since Steve Goldsmith, is leading their ticket on this year"s ballot. In his TV ads, Fernandez calls himself a "fiscal conservative" who will "crack down on corporate crime," the political sound bites most in favor among the visionless. When the issue of corporate crime no longer resonates among the voters, you can bet today"s corporate criminals will be bankrolling Fernandez" political career tomorrow. Just like Bloomington developers did yesterday. When it comes to the Secretary of State race this year, environmentalists should have a three-letter answer to the question, "Whaddya you gonna do, vote Republican?" "Yes!"