COMMENTARY: Carper no friend of the environment

Responding to the July 17 story “Carper: Delaware choked by ozone pollution from nearby states, urges action by EPA.”

I have known Tom Carper as congressman, governor and senator. He’s a skillful, hard-working professional politician who knows how to sell himself. He has an almost Trumpish ability to claim credit for doing the opposite of what he has actually done. Many stories can be told about Carper’s history of assaults on Delaware’s environment. Here are three:

Carper came into the governorship with a “Chamber of Commerce” agenda of rolling back environmental regulations. He set up teams to look at regulations with the intent of weakening them. Never was this question asked: “Are these regulations sufficiently strict and well enough enforced to protect our health and quality of life?”

He targeted the Coastal Zone Act, so successfully that the same approach and the same consulting firm are being used now, 20 years later, by the Carney administration, to pound the final nails into the Coastal Zone coffin. The environmental progress being made under his predecessor, Republican Gov. Mike Castle, was reversed.

I recall going with a group to Philadelphia to protest an event at which Carper was speaking. Jake Kreshtool, longtime activist, had a sign saying “Governor Carper–the River Polluters’ Best Friend.” How sadly true.

Later on, the Delaware City Refinery was seeking to address an air pollution problem by scrubbing pollutants out of smokestack emissions and dumping them into the Delaware River. This approach was OK with the DNREC Division of Water Resources and the College of Marine Studies (both now have new names).

Sen. Carper wouldn’t respond at all. I had the honor at one of his “town meetings” to say something like “Senator, why is it that you don’t respond to us, so we have to seek the help of New Jersey senators to protect the Delaware River?” New Jersey senators Corzine and Lautenberg did respond, and we got a more responsible approach installed.

Of late, Carper has been sending out campaign-oriented emails and pressers, criticizing Trump and posing as a great friend of the environment. Of course, almost anyone would be a friend of the environment if compared to Trump, but has Carper really changed?

The DNREC’s petitions to EPA, asking it to enforce the Clean Air Act against polluting upwind power plants, are well justified and the complaints against the Trump EPA for denying them are valid. Green Delaware supports this effort.

But, bad decisions in D.C. should not be used as a smokescreen to cover up Delaware’s failure to curtail home-grown polluters. A recent “special update” from Gov. Carney’s office claims “Over 90 percent of the pollution that contributes to poor air quality in Delaware is transported from out-of-state sources.” People living near the refinery, near the Mountaire chicken plants, near a sandblasted water tower, or near a neighbor with a wood stove, will see through this.

Has Carper truly changed his act? Is he now using his influential position on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee to protect Delawareans? Possibly.

One reason Delawareans have so little real control over their government is that they tend to passively re-elect incumbents without critically examining their records. Carper has held public office in Delaware since 1977, over 40 years. When is enough, enough?

Carper is being challenged in a Democratic primary by community activist Kerri Evelyn Harris. Harris is allied with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a people-oriented candidate who recently won an upset primary victory in New York. Thoughtful Delawareans should give Harris a close look. The primary election date is Sept. 6.

Alan Muller, of Port Penn, is executive director of Green Delaware, a community-based organization working on environment, public health and democracy/open government issues.

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