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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Beyond the Headlines

Air Date: Week of March 7, 2014

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(bigstockphoto.com)

In this week's trip Beyond the Headlines, Peter Dykstra, published on ehn dot org notes that the green mountain state, Vermont, is not wholly friendly to green energy, and federal safety inspectors are so overworked their job is impossible.

Transcript

CURWOOD: Off now from Evergreen state to the Peach state, for a trip beyond the headlines.
Peter Dykstra's our guide. He's the publisher of DailyClimate.org and EHN.org - Environmental Health News - and he joins us on the line from Conyers, Georgia. Hi there, Peter, what's shaking this week?

DYKSTRA: Hi, Steve, I'm going to start you off with a story from Vermont where there’s a long storied history of battling against what we call dirty energy, and the most recent example of that is, of course, Bill McKibben and this campaign against the Keystone XL pipeline.

Lately though, we’ve seen something different, where Vermonters aren’t giving a free ride to “green energy,” either. Dave Gram’s a reporter for the Associated Press. He covers Vermont, and he describes a place that’s a haven for solar jobs where the lone nuclear plant is shutting down after years of public opposition, fracking was banned outright by the legislature and governor...the Green Mountain State is pretty green. Local opposition recently however killed two windfarm proposals, the legislature turned down a wood-burning power plant proposal, and there was even opposition to a solar array that drew a big crowd of opponents to a hearing recently.

CURWOOD: So Vermonters wanting to protect their scenic vistas, Peter, or maybe some “Not In My Backyard?”

DYKSTRA: Or maybe both, and with things like the wood-burning power plant, there really are some real environmental concerns, but who would have thought Vermont would be the place where alternative energy would see such a tough time?

CURWOOD: Who indeed? What else do you have for us?

DYKSTRA: Well, are you as bad at math as I am?

CURWOOD: Depends how bad you are.

DYKSTRA: I’m pretty bad, I’m going to assume you’re bad at it, too, so here goes. One of the casualties of the tight economy and the push to streamline government, is that we’re seeing safety inspections really cut back - environmental inspections, workplace safety, food safety inspections - they’re all getting squeezed. The people responsible for checking on our safety have ridiculous workloads. We flagged a story in the Des Moines Register this week where they looked into a few examples of this going on in Iowa. There was one state inspector they singled out responsible for 4,500 building inspections for asbestos every year. One person, 4,500 inspections.

CURWOOD: One person, 4,500 inspections in a year?



A government inspector at work (bigstockphoto.com)

DYKSTRA: Yes, so I got the calculator out and figured out how realistic or how absurd this was. This poor soul’s workload...they work forty hours a week, maybe two weeks vacation, maybe count in 15 holidays or sick days. That’s 47 work-weeks a year for 4,500 inspections, and that works out to 25 minutes per inspection. So in that frame of 25 minutes, you have to go to the inspection site, you have to travel back from the inspection site, you have to do the inspection, you have to do the paperwork and everything else that’s involved and obviously, that’s something that physically can’t be done. Taxpayers are paying for this, they’re expecting that our health and safety is protected, and it’s a job that’s absolutely impossible to do given the workload, and staffing and time constraints. There are examples of this all over the country.

CURWOOD: So that would suggest that safety inspections have holes big enough to drive a truck through.

DYKSTRA: Yes, unfortunately it also suggests that if you drove a truck through one of those holes, the inspectors would never notice.

CURWOOD: Ok, before you go, Peter, what’s on the calendar this week?

DYKSTRA: We’ve got a really important “what-if” on the calendar because its was 20 years ago this month that Ukraine started to get rid of its nuclear weapons. The Soviet Union had broken up. What was left behind in the Ukraine was the world’s third-largest bomb stockpile. They had more control over nukes than Britain and France, and China combined. Then along came a deal brokered by Boris Yeltsin and Bill Clinton. Other world leaders were involved and they persuaded Ukraine, this newly-independent nation to give up all of its nuclear weapons. The first shipment left in March 1994, 20 years ago, and Ukraine eventually became completely nuclear free.

CURWOOD: And the “what-if” would comes into play if those nukes were in the middle of the current conflict, huh?

DYKSTRA: Exactly. And what the Ukraine got in return for giving up its nuclear weapons was a promise from Russia that Russia would never encroach on Ukrainian territory, and obviously that’s not been going well lately.

CURWOOD: Yes, that’s certainly an understatement. Peter Dykstra is the publisher of Daily Climate.org and Environmental Health News - EHN.org. Thanks, Peter.

DYKSTRA: Thanks a lot, Steve. Talk to you soon.

CURWOOD: And you can find more details of these stories at our website, LOE.org.

 

Links

Vermont Loves Renewable Energy Except When It Arrives

 

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