Are the dirty ages once again upon us?

Are the dirty ages once again upon us?

As much as we sometimes bristle about rules imposed by the federal government, we need only remember the huge chat piles that once dominated parts of the landscape in Jasper County to know why we need regulations.

Mine owners simply took the guts out of the earth and left the detritus. No thought was given to cleaning up the mess they had made. Their objective was to make money. Local leaders had a stake in the mines themselves, either directly as owners or management or indirectly through economic interests in the city, so there was no incentive to clean up. Waste was simply left on the landscape.

Of course, they didn’t know that the area’s economic bonanza they created harbored an unseen threat. Their smelters were belching out smoke laced with heavy metals that contaminated yards for miles around. Over 10 million tons of surface mining wastes contaminated about 7,000 acres in the Oronogo-Duenweg Mining Belt alone. No measure of how this affected the health of local people over the past century exists, but heavy metal contamination can cause a host of permanent effects on the brain, the kidneys and other body systems.

Our area hasn’t been alone with its environmental woes. In 1969 the Cuyahoga River in Ohio was so contaminated that it caught on fire. That incident spurred the federal government into action and led to environmental legislation like the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act and the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970 by then-President Richard Nixon. Regulations were put into place to protect citizens, including banning DDT, reducing emissions that caused acid rain, getting the lead out of gasoline, classifying secondhand smoke as a cancer cause and creating emission standards for cars and trucks.

The EPA was also charged with remediating environmental hazards such as contaminated water and soils. These contaminated areas were dubbed superfund sites. As of April 10, there were still 1,337 superfund sites on the National Priorities List with 33 sites in Missouri, including the Oronogo-Duenweg Mining Belt, and three sites in Newton County.

The Joplin area was designated a superfund site after high lead levels were detected in the children who lived in areas near former mining activities. The EPA replaced the yards at more than 2,600 residential properties, making them safe for kids to play in the dirt. Meanwhile, several hundred homes were connected to public water supplies because their wells were contaminated with heavy metals. The project cost millions of dollars and was completed in 2002. Unfortunately, the 2011 tornado unearthed contaminated soil. As a result, the EPA has, thus far, awarded $8.5 million for testing and replacement of soils contaminated as a result of the tornado.

Ottawa County, Oklahoma, and Cherokee County, Kansas, suffered similar disregard by mining companies and were left with massive contamination. The EPA designated those areas as superfund sites as well and embarked on remediation.

Joplin is still paying the price for its mining history. The Joplin Globe recently reported on efforts by the city to eliminate the introduction of contaminated groundwater into the sanitary sewer system.

Private industry is often negligent about doing the right thing until it is coerced into being ethical. To not understand this is like believing that the goal of the fox is in accordance with ours when we engage him to guard the hen house. Federal regulations are needed to make industry toe the line.

I remember gathering for the first Earth Day in 1970 and what high hopes we had for a future with clean air, clean water and clean energy. I never dreamed that nearly half a century later our president would appoint an enemy of environmental protection to head the EPA and would propose slashing the agency’s budget by 31 percent. What happens when we have the next major oil spill? Who will oversee the cleanup? What happens to remediation of those 1,337 sites on the National Priorities List? What happens to the ongoing cleanup of the Oronogo-Duenweg Mining Belt, which has been projected to continue until the mid-2020s?

President Donald Trump’s policies threaten to return us to the dirty ages.

JOAN BANKS lives in Joplin and is a Member of Southwest Missouri Democrats.

JOAN BANKS

Columnist

Stay Strong for working people. (Prevailing Wage)

Krista Stark: Stay strong for working people

 -Published in the Joplin Globe on 4/16/17

When you drive across a bridge, send your child to a public school or enter a public building, you have faith that the structures won’t collapse. You want to know that skilled, well-trained workers have constructed them. Thanks to Missouri’s prevailing wage law, the odds are heavily in your favor.

Missouri is one of 29 states with a prevailing wage law that ensures fair wages for our laborers, carpenters, electricians, bricklayers, masons, boilermakers, steelworkers, and plumbers and pipefitters when they are working on public projects such as roads, bridges, schools and other public buildings. Having this standard helps make sure that Missourians get the most-qualified workers for these public projects.

Prevailing wage laws also protect local jobs by ensuring firms that bring in lower-cost, out-of-state labor do not outbid companies using a Missouri labor force. When West Virginia was debating its prevailing wage law, the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy concluded that prevailing wage laws help “ensure that government-funded construction projects are done with highly skilled workers from the community, increasing productivity and strengthening the economy with good-paying local jobs.”

Studies repeatedly show that in prevailing-wage states, construction jobs are completed more quickly and more safely and come in under budget more frequently.

Repealing Missouri’s prevailing wage law will have certain negative affects. According to a 2016 study, “The Adverse Economic Impact of the Repeal of the Prevailing Wage Law in Missouri” by Dr. Michael Kelsay of the University of Missouri, Kansas City, its repeal:

• Would produce a loss of income and revenue between $225.3 million and $360.7 million annually.

• Would not result in any cost savings in school construction costs as alleged by the opponents of prevailing wage.

The study also discovered that real compensation packages, health benefits and pensions are higher for workers in prevailing wage states than in non-prevailing wage states.

Furthermore, states that repeal prevailing wage laws, such as Kansas, find that skilled workers flee to find better jobs. With their loss comes a shortage of qualified workers.

Studies show that there is a positive effect for all residents in states with prevailing wage laws: Higher wages in public construction help raise other workers’ wages. In addition, well-paid workers are good consumers, boosting our economy. Furthermore, the prevailing wage changes the total cost of a job only slightly because the labor costs are on average only 20 to 25 percent of the total cost of construction.

So why would our state Legislature be intent on repealing the prevailing wage law in Missouri? Corporate influence is to blame because corporations believe that prevailing wage hurts their interests; the law’s repeal allows them to pay their skilled workers less. The Missouri House has already abandoned working people by passing HB104 to repeal the prevailing wage, and the Missouri Senate is now considering passing the bill for Gov. Eric Greitens to sign.

We must act to ensure that Missouri stands strong for its working people. Call your state senator and voice your support for our prevailing wage laws. (To find a list of your legislators, visit www.senate.mo.gov.) Let your state senator know that you respect our skilled workers and think they should be paid a decent wage for quality work.

Krista Stark is the executive director of Southwest Missouri Democrats.

Krista Stark: Stay strong for working people

Guest Columnist

ACA is here to stay; Missouri get used to it

ACA here to stay; Missouri get used to it

Published in the Joplin Globe April 16, 2016

As has been made clear, events did not work out well for the GOP, and the Affordable Care Act is here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future.

For all its faults (even Democrats acknowledge the ACA could be improved), expanded Medicaid (part of the ACA) is an obvious benefit to millions of Americans.

We in Missouri have delayed signing up for expanded Medicaid, even though states such as Iowa, Illinois, Kentucky and Arkansas around Missouri have some version of it. Even the Kansas Legislature is considering expanded Medicaid.

For years, the GOP-controlled Statehouse in Jefferson City has refused to even debate the issue, maintaining that Washington would surely repeal and replace the ACA. That didn’t happen, so now what?

Maybe it’s time for Jefferson City to start talking about how many people would gain real medical insurance (several hundred thousand), how many new medically-related jobs would be created (tens of thousands), how much tax money would remain in the state (billions of dollars) and how much tax revenue would be generated by the new jobs.

With expanded Medicaid, hospitals in rural communities would be in a stronger position because their emergency rooms, a big part of their budgets, would serve an insured population and would therefore have much better solvency.

If the Missouri Statehouse and Gov. Eric Greitens would sign on to expanded Medicaid (many GOP state governments have already done so), the federal government would pick up 90 percent of Medicaid costs.

Working poor in our state who make less than 133 percent of poverty level are provided health insurance and no longer are dependent on hospital emergency room medicine for long-term health care or what would be otherwise inappropriate (and inefficient) medical service.

The time has come for such a conversation at the Missouri Statehouse on expanded Medicaid, and when this discussion takes place, then our elected officials would be doing their jobs.

The ACA is here to stay, meanwhile many real Missourians are being denied their right to good health insurance; and Missouri continues to pay the price both in dollars and in lower quality of life.

Hugh Shields

 

 

 

Blunt right to be concerned about public education…

Blunt right to be concerned about public education

Published in the Joplin Globe

Now that the Republicans have failed to get rid of former President Barack Obama’s health care law, “Obamacare,” we should be turning our attention to another cause celebre of the Trump administration, the public funding of private education.

According to the Washington Post, President Donald Trump’s budget plan calls for investing an additional $1.4 billion in school choice programs, including $250 million in a new initiative to provide public money for students to attend private schools. At the same time, he proposes the regular Department of Education budget be cut by 13 percent, or$9 billion.

The new secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, said the proposal “places power in the hands of parents and families to choose schools that are best for their children” and represents “the first step in investing in education programs that work.”

However, taking away money from the public education pool will necessarily reduce, not increase, the choice level of the parents of public school children, including those who, even with vouchers, cannot afford private schools and those who live too far from private schools.

As Nick Kyle, of Joplin, a person who has spent his careereducatingchildren and adults, expertly pointed out (Joplin Globe, Feb. 19), the success of a school system generally reflects the poverty rate of the area served bythe school.There is clear evidence that moving disadvantaged children into charter and private schools does not help. (“Dismal Voucher Results Surprise Researchers as DeVos Era Begins,” New York Times, Feb. 23). Kyle also indicated that statistics show most charter schools perform no better than the public schools. Often the apparent success of private and charter schools is a result of citing test scores of students who have been raised with the advantages of coming exclusively from upper middle class families. However, it is deceptive to compare the scores of these students to the scores of public school children who come from all levels socio-economically, including children with special needs.

Given its mandate to educate all children, our public education system has been doing a good job. The summary of the Department of Education’sproposed 2017 budget noted that over the last 7 years, our nation has made considerable progress in education: The high school graduation rate has reached an all-time high of 82 percent; dropout rates are at historic lows; and since 2008, more students are graduating from college than ever before.

The Joplin Globe has reported that Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., chairs of the Senate and House education appropriation committees respectively, have expressed caution about diminishing or eliminating programs helpful to educating the nation’s children.

According to the Education and Law Project, proven educational programs include high-quality early childhood and prekindergarten services, strengthened teacher licensure requirements and training programs, early collegehigh schools, and reducedclass sizes.

We should support and reinforce these legislators’ caution. It is a myth that public schools are less able to prepare our children for their future than are private schools. Please urge these and other legislators to protect our public education system.

DOUGLAS BROOKS is the chairman of the Southwest Missouri Democrats.

DOUG BROOKS

Columnist

Sensible gun safety

I am not anti-gun. I want well-armed police and military and have no problem with responsible private gun ownership.

I am not anti-gun. I want well-armed police and military and have no problem with responsible private gun ownership.
I do not, however, believe that America is so dangerous that we need personal arsenals and should carry guns everywhere we go. In fact, with more people packing heat, our danger increases.
The gun lobby and their politician thralls use misinformation and tortured logic to sell the idea that guns make us safe. “Sell” is key here because profit is their motivation, using their version of the 2nd Amendment as a clever marketing tool.
Consider the twist away from the original intent of the 2nd Amendment, the right for citizens to bear arms in order to maintain a well-regulated militia. Before the days of an institutionalized military, this was how our founders provided for the common defense.
Constitutional revisionism is artfully marketed on the facade of the National Rifle Association’s headquarters. They omitted the first part of the amendment and engraved only, “…the right of the people to bear arms shall not be infringed.” You can sell more weapons by not limiting your market only to those willing to join a well-regulated militia.
Other propaganda has helped swell the gun market. We are told that America is dangerous and that guns make us safer. Despite proclamations by ill-informed politicians and the gory sensationalism of 24-hour TV, violent crime has actually fallen. There has been an increase in some metropolitan areas during the past two years, but violent crime rates are still lower than a decade ago (FBI Uniform Crime Reporting).
Some argue that violent crime is down because people have guns for protection. Flaws in this logic are reflected in states like Missouri where gun violence has increased since we started weakening gun laws in 2007.
If more guns and looser laws improve safety, why does the FBI list both St. Louis and Kansas City in the top ten most lethal cities over the past five years, outranking Chicago, Baltimore and other places we think of as more dangerous?
Why do studies show that every act of self-defense is far outranked by assaults, suicides, and accidents by “good guys with guns” (Harvard Political Review, August 2016)?
We have been misled about guns keeping us safer at home. Lethality during a home invasion is essentially zero (The Week, 11/6/2015), but Missouri expanded the Castle Doctrine and Stand Your Ground last year. In reality, guns at home make us less safe. Two-thirds of last year’s gun deaths were suicides, and it’s alarmingly common to hear about children doing tragic harm with unsecured guns.
Missouri now allows anyone 19 or older to carry a concealed gun without training or permit. How illogical to require training, licensing, and insurance for other potentially dangerous practices (for example, piloting a plane, performing surgery, driving a car) while denying the need for gun-toters to be trained, licensed, or insured. This is special nonsense now that gun deaths equal motor vehicles deaths in the U.S.
In spite of facts, politicians clamor for even looser restrictions. Representative Taylor (R-Nixa) wants guns on college campuses. Representative Marshall (R-Parkville) chafes against prohibition of concealed carry by visitors to our State Capitol. Representative Moon (R-Ash Grove) proposes additional liability for business owners who prohibit guns on their premises.
Congress is considering a federal concealed carry reciprocity which would require all states to condone the rules of the least restrictive state. They are also considering lifting the ban on the sale of silencers. Meanwhile, proposals such as requiring gun owners to carry insurance, report stolen guns, transfer guns only through licensed dealers are met with strong resistance.
As I stated to begin, I am not against guns. I am against the profit-motivated propaganda and illogical thinking that have led Missouri to have some of the poorest gun safety laws in the nation. I object to the NRA holding our elected officials hostage. Looser gun laws do not enhance our common defense, but they do increase the profits of the gun market. Until our elected officials agree to examine facts and apply logic, we will remain duped by the gun lobby and will become increasingly less safe.

Sherry Buchanan

Sherry Buchanan is the Vice Chair of Southwest Missouri Democrats and a contributor for “Another Point of View” in the Neosho Daily News.

Homegrown Terrorism

Joplin Globe Letter to the Editor by: SWMO Democrats Member Michael Banks

Appeared in The Joplin Globe on February 26, 2017

Homegrown terrorism

One of the more chilling statements President Donald Trump made during his (Feb. 16) press conference was that he had signed an executive order directing state and local police to participate with federal immigration authorities in the identification and detention of undocumented immigrants in our country.

It seems alarmingly analogous to an action in 1942 when the French national government ordered Paris police to round up Jews. In two days, they succeeded in seizing 13,152 Jews in and around Paris, including more than 4,000 children. The victims were eventually transported in cattle cars to death camps. None of the children survived. Only 100 others survived.

It was the French police, not the Nazi occupiers who rounded them up. The police and the victims were largely unaware of what was going to happen; they simply followed orders.

Even though extermination is not the objective in the present roundup, the unintentional consequence of Trump’s order will surely be the radicalization of a large population within our country, the kind that feeds homegrown terrorism.

Michael Banks

Joplin