March 29, 2012 11:02:27 AM
Tuesday in his presentation to Columbus-Lowndes Development Link Trust members economic development guru Bill Fruth said something that gave us pause. Fruth was talking about how community attitudes and laws can be a deterrent for new business.
He was talking about how the move by American manufacturers offshore was less about lower wages and more about local, state and federal government interference. Fruth mentioned communities that failed to heed his advice to maintain a business-friendly environment and suffered as a result. Decision makers are not going to sit through zoning meeting after zoning meeting, Fruth said. They will go somewhere else.
Fruth went on to say opposition from environmentalists was a negative factor and seemed pleasantly surprised about the lack of an environmental movement here. To our knowledge, he's right, and it is disconcerting.
We all understand and welcome the benefits of new manufacturing: jobs, higher pay, increased revenue for government coffers. But do we know the costs? What is happening to our air and our water table? It is, after all, our air, our water. The Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality is charged with enforcing federal and state laws to "... conserve the air and water and to protect, maintain and improve the quality thereof for public use."
And while we don't mean to criticize DEQ, history shows that government has not always been the most vigilant protector of the environment.
If you happen to live on Southside, you now have to contend with more trains and the sound of clashing steel as barges unload scrap steel on the Tenn-Tom. It's one of the costs the community bears for manufacturing growth. Residents here in the 90s remember the smell from the Weyerhaeuser pulp mill. Old timers remember the overflowing artesian wells that no longer exist because of a drop in the water table.
We are not expressing opposition to growth, only noting it comes with a cost. Too often we don't know what that cost is until after the fact, if then.
We've all visited blighted areas where too little attention was given to the environment. Ours is not a culture given to citizen activism, at least not on the environmental front.
In the Northeast residents-turned-environmentalists are in hand-to-hand combat with energy companies over fracking, a process that extracts fossil fuels from the earth by injecting a fluid, often one with toxic, radio-active ingredients, into rock layers. Contamination of the water table and the toxicity of the fluid used are among the concerns of residents, who are doing battle with a powerful and wealthy opponent, the oil industry.
Would those interests find opposition here? We doubt it.
Just as we wouldn't order food in a restaurant from a menu without prices, we shouldn't embrace industry without knowing the costs. There is a price for progress. We need to understand what it is.