The Starting Five, 2/3/2015


"I used to be disgusted, now I try to be amused... " is a line from an old Elvis Costello song. Over the past week or so, this has been the prevailing attitude expressed in reaction to the unveiling of a new Indiana tourism slogan: "Honest to Goodness."

Most people, it seems, are underwhelmed by this attempt to rebrand Indiana in a way that, according to Indiana Office of Tourism Development's Mark Newman, "incorporates all regions of the state."

Newman says the slogan speaks to Indiana's reputation for hospitality.

Well, OK. So we're nice to strangers - as long as they steer clear of our factory farms and refrain from asking why the air downwind is so putrid.

But I digress.

The trouble with "Honest to Goodness" is that people in Indiana know too much to believe it.

Perhaps you've heard about the massive coal ash spill in North Carolina's Dan River. A coal ash pond belonging to Duke Energy burst on February 2, releasing tens of thousands of tons of toxic coal ash waste into the river.

Coal ash is what's left over from burning coal for energy. It's nasty stuff, including such cancer-causing substances as arsenic, manganese, boron, chromium and lead.

The US Attorney's office in Raleigh has ordered the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to hand over memos, email and other correspondence related to Duke Energy because citizens' groups have claimed that the DENR has been allowing Duke to play fast and loose with regulations for years.

This North Carolina story is all too familiar to us Honest to Goodness Hoosiers. That'd because we can claim more coal ash sludge lagoons than any other state in the union. We allow these toxic dumps to be located in flood plains and near sources of drinking water. What's more, as our state's Hoosier Environmental Council has pointed out, Indiana does not require lagoons to be designed by professional engineers, or to have composite liners. There are no mandatory inspections or groundwater monitoring.

Eight Indiana coal ash dumps have contaminated groundwater; 60 percent of the lagoons inspected by the US EPA were given a "poor rating" for structural integrity.

Drinking water in the northern Indiana Town of Pines was contaminated by a coal ash leak that the State of Indiana knew about since the 1980's but allowed to continue until residents wouldn't take it anymore. People there were forced to rely on bottled water and municipal H2O brought in from nearby Michigan City.

Now that's Hoosier Hospitality.

And that's why Indiana's most recent effort to rebrand itself rings so hollow. There is nothing honest nor good about the way we treat our environment. Instead, we continue to be lead by lawfakers who act as if the right to pollute is a key to prosperity. What we really need is a massive clean-up. That will brand Indiana a place where everyone will want to work and live.


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