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Respecting the Creator Requires Respect for the Creation: An Ongoing Environmental Challenge in Alabama

Tyson Fishkill, Mulberry Fork of Sipsey River, Alabama

Photo: Black Warrior Riverkeeper; Nelson Brooke

Greetings my friends.  Yesterday, November 20, I noticed an article in our local paper, The Times Daily (https://www.timesdaily.com/news/state/alabama-ag-working-on-tyson-fish-kill-penalty/article_76b03e83-e302-5ebb-a69e-26f78b591802.html ). This article reports on recent developments in the investigation of ” the largest recorded fish kill in state history.” I decided to read about the incident by searching for other articles on the internet.

The Times Daily article quotes the director of the Alabama Department of Environmental Management’s  strongly-worded assurance that our environment shall be protected and that violators shall pay the price of remediation:

Director of ADEM Lance LeFluer told Alabama Daily News in July that “Tyson will be held accountable for any violations to the Clean Water Act, for remediation of environmental damage, and loss of use of natural resources by Alabama citizens.

That sounds good.  But I found an earlier article published by another source last September (https://www.al.com/news/2019/09/like-a-death-alabama-still-investigating-fish-kill-near-tyson-plant.html ). That article contains a more lengthy quotation of Lance LeFleur.  It gave me an entirely different impression (a negative one) of Mr. LeFleur’s enforcement policies. Here is Mr. LeFleur’s defense of his view that increasing penalties for violators of environmental protection laws is “old school” thinking:

Lance LeFleur, director of Alabama Department of Environmental Management, has expressed a different philosophy when it comes to industry compliance.

“Industry has a job, their job is to comply with the permits,” LeFleur said. “We have a job, and our job is to make sure that they comply with the permits. They don’t want to pay penalties. We don’t want them to pay penalties. We want them to comply.”

LeFleur said that the department in most cases relies on inspections and informal enforcement, rather than fines, to ensure compliance with environmental laws.

“We often get criticized by different folks that we are not aggressive enough in our penalty assessments to the violating entities,” LeFleur said. “I don’t like to use the dollar amount of penalties as a measure of performance.

“I think it’s old school thinking to say we want penalties to be higher and higher and higher all the time. We want penalties to be lower because we want compliance.”

He also said that large companies like Tyson are often motivated by factors other than fines.

“With the big industries, if the plant manager gets even a warning that can jeopardize his bonus,” LeFleur said. “The environmental stuff that they have to do to stay in compliance is this much [of the total operation]. They don’t want to close down their operation because somebody screwed up on an environmental piece that was a minor, minor piece of what they do overall.” [end quote]

LeFleur wants us to believe that taking care not to injure the environment is “a minor, minor piece of what  [Tyson plants] do overall.”  This is beyond belief!  He wants us to believe as well that increasing the cost of environmental violations to the Tyson business is of very minor concern to Tyson, and hence, is not an effective deterrent.  He labels the idea that stiff penalties are an effective deterrent “old school thinking.”  Well, welcome, my readers, to the OLD SCHOOL !!!!!  The primary reason businesses like Tyson exist is to make a profit– nothing inherently wrong with that.  But there is something inherently wrong with the notion that actions that reduce their profit are of little concern to them.  LeFleur’s words are among the most irrational, incredible– as in “not to be believed”–words that I have ever heard.  Furthermore, if indeed compliance with our environmental protection laws is of minor, minor significance to this business, is it any wonder that this would be the case? NO WONDER!  Not if they are operating their largest chicken rendering plant in a state whose protection agency director is loathe to threaten them with heavy fines!  Whoopee!  What me worry?

If, as LeFleur implies, such things as wastewater spills are considered by Tyson to be so minor a part of what they do, it is time that we enforce our laws in such a way that it leaves little room for such misplaced priorities.  The al.com source quoted above gives us a better perspective on the spill than those like LeFleur, who appear to see it as a rather minor incident:

The River Valley Ingredients facility (it was renamed after Tyson purchased it in 2018), has been described as the largest poultry rendering facility in the country, taking blood, feathers, innards and other parts of chickens that aren’t valued for human consumption, boiling and melting them into protein-based products that can be used to create animal feed, pet food or other products.

The wastewater that spilled into the Mulberry Fork contained the leftovers from the leftovers, the last bits that could not be boiled, melted or congealed into a usable product. After the wastewater entered the river, bacteria counts shot off the charts and oxygen levels plummeted to essentially zero.

…..Fish and other animals that need oxygenated water to survive died by the thousands, creating several missing links in the Mulberry Fork food chain.

As I previously said in describing some of my embroidery designs , honoring the ONE SOURCE OF ALL THINGS, whom I call “God,” requires that we respect what God has created, EVERYTHING.  The Mulberry Fork of the beautiful Sipsey River in Alabama has experienced a horrendous injury to the ecosystem of which it is a part.  Neither Tyson Foods nor the ADEM has given sufficient respect to the System of Life which our benevolent Creator has entrusted to us. That system is not only necessary to our survival, it is SACRED.

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