It remains to be seen whether a bill to ban creosote as a fuel source for electricity producers will be approved by the Georgia General Assembly.
But local citizens’ efforts in recent months remind me that residents actually can have political power when they are passionate, diligent and present in front of their representatives in government. Enough people have cried out against the burning of vast quantities of creosote ties in this community to make local leaders take notice and then act to protect citizens. County commissioners passed a resolution Monday supporting a bill introduced by Reps. Alan Powell and Tom McCall to eliminate creosote-treated wood as a biomass fuel source. Getting legislation through the Gold Dome is no small task. But that bill would not exist without local citizens appealing to their representatives to consider their lives as holding real worth against the dollar.
Georgia Renewable Power (GRP) has the permitting to burn creosote-treated railroad ties, but does this make it OK? The answer is perhaps yes if you believe in this nation’s regulatory integrity and that the government won’t let any harm befall you. Blind faith in such a system is easy at a distance, right? Of course, but if you live in close proximity to any polluter, blind faith doesn’t seem like such a good response if your eyes, ears and nose tell you something’s up. You don’t want any pats on the head and assurances that all is fine. You want much more.
Many Madison County residents have realized that they don’t want their home to be Georgia’s testing ground for industrial burning of creosote-treated products. If you could show that this practice has happened for many years in places without any data showing negative health effects, then, yes, it would be easier to accept the practice. But does such data exist? I haven’t seen this. Madison County and Franklin County are indeed the guinea pigs on large-scale burning of creosote as a biomass source. We can argue science all we want. But where is the precedent for the long-term health impact of this biomass practice on a community? If the burning of creosote ties remains in practice here, Madison County will be the new, real-world data point in this regard. And oops is not an answer anyone wants. Oops will be too much for Madison County citizens to endure. Like many, I felt one way when the business plan was initially presented, but I felt very different when the creosote was introduced. It’s just too big a gamble with citizens’ health in my book.
I write this and also think about the upcoming week of qualifying. This whole creosote issue has reminded me that yes, government can still be pushed into action by the people, not the money. And isn’t it hard to remember this at times?
At the local level, I’m often struck by personalities and how they sometimes clash. That’s just human. But I still feel pretty trusting on one major point when it comes to county-level politics: it’s not primarily about the money. It may be ego. It may be a feeling of power. It may be true civic-mindedness. It may be good or bad in the heart of a candidate for a local seat. But I’ve met many local candidates over the years, and I can count on one hand the times I’ve gotten that sneaking suspicion that this person is scheming in some financial way. It’s just not a common feeling.
And when the hard times come in a meeting room, I don’t feel the local officials are generally beholden to some outside big-money interest. Yes, that’s another feeling I’ve had on occasion, but it’s extremely rare. No, what seems way more frequent is the feeling that, “Man, that crowd is here tonight, and they’re angry, and I sure wouldn’t want to be sitting at that table.” I think the passion of the local citizenry holds far more sway in local government than outside money.
But when you move the leaders far away from the citizens and then introduce them to an elaborate money game, then the interest of the people gets swallowed by cash. It happens every time.
We all see this. We all begin to feel hopeless, as if nothing we say or do matters against the vast ocean of green filling so many pockets.
But at least locally, we can realize that the impact of citizens is real. Remember this as you consider running. Remember this as you consider voting. If you run for local office, you can actually affect lives in your community for better or worse. If you band together to be heard, you can have an impact on those representatives.
We seem to want to change everything from the top down. But the evidence is the opposite. Real change is bottom up. It’s being involved and addressing what’s actually staring you in the face. That’s democracy when it’s healthy.
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