EDITORIAL: Balancing business, environmental health
Transportation, production facilities, pipelines, power plants and farming are some of the primary industries of the region. Meanwhile, a morning walk in York reveals a heavy layer of air pollution over the region and the air quality is often, particularly during heat and humidity, at warning levels.
The air in the Harrisburg, York and Lebanon metropolitan area is among the worst in the nation, according to the American Lung Association. It ranks 18th on the list of 25 U.S. cities most polluted by short-term particle pollution. The area also ranks ninth in the nation for the 25 U.S. cities most polluted by year-round particle pollution.
Balancing job creation and business attraction with the health of our corner of the planet is a challenge. And it’s not just about the air, it’s about the soil, water — our overall environment.
That brings us to Perdue. This past week, it was announced that a controversial soybean-crushing facility proposed by Perdue to be located in Lancaster County will move forward, despite the protests of local environmentalists.
The state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) on Thursday approved an air plan for the proposed Perdue Agribusiness plant in Conoy Township, all but ending a nearly five-year battle with local environmentalists and neighbors.
A group of neighboring Hellam Township residents, currently considering whether to appeal the approval, has long argued hexane, a hazardous air pollutant that would be used in and then emitted from the plant, will drift over the Susquehanna River and adversely impact their lives. They urged the DEP to require Perdue to install equipment to reduce the amount of hexane released.
But the DEP opted not to require the equipment in its plan approval, saying the level of hexane expected to be emitted from the plant isn't expected to raise health concerns. Hexane emissions are limited by the state to a maximum of 208 tons per year, making the Perdue facility subject to the lowest achievable emission rate, according to the DEP.
Perdue contends the plant is expected to bring 500 additional crop production and transportation jobs to the region, while the physical plant will employ 35 people.
And here’s why that’s tricky. Perhaps technically, the hexane levels are at a minimum — and let's say the DEP is correct that there would be no health concerns based on that level alone.
Does this take into account our current regional emissions levels? Because we are surely compounding the load on our environment. This project isn’t happening in a vacuum.
Additionally, increased crop production and transportation mean increased environmental impact.
Local environmental activists certainly don’t have the resources to do the kind of studies needed to thoroughly examine the total environmental impact of the plant and to truly determine whether the economic development is worth the potential environmental damage to be done.
While we’d like to think the DEP has vetted the project thoroughly and all of the primary and secondary environmental impacts have been examined, we have only to actually look at the gray air that hangs over us during our morning walk to know that the cumulative effect of industry upon our environment is a significant one.
We would argue that without a healthy environment and a legislative and economic support system for businesses that are good stewards, we might discourage a new generation of eco-friendly businesses from considering locating here.
That’s because, today, consumers gravitate toward eco-friendly businesses and they often choose not to patronize companies that harm the environment, directly or indirectly. The internet has in many ways democratized the business/consumer relationship, and the environment is a key issue in that relationship.
Polluting the environment can be just plain bad for business. We need to reverse that trend in York so we can all breathe easier.