Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Grants, grants, grants: Sucking on the public tit . . .

Per today's O-D, Oneida County will get $50K of help for brownfields from the federal government "to assess areas" local officials "believe to be contaminated."

Hello? The federal Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) has already done this locally with its National Priorities List. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation is already doing this for more sites with its Inactive Hazardous Waste Disposal Site Program, including Preliminary Site Assessments, and classification of various inactive hazardous waste disposal sites. Why should the county (or this consultant to the county) get money to do something the state and federal governments are already doing with fully trained experts in the field?

This "Let's reinvent the wheel" project sounds similar to what we heard back in 2002 when Niagara Mohawk said it was submitting a grant proposal to the USEPA to inventory and prioritize brownfield sites as part of the so-called "Center for Brownfield Studies" project. We all know now that the Center for Brownfield Studies never lived up to its promise. Like today's plan, it was nothing more than an excuse to spend taxpayer money, with the people implementing the program being its primary beneficiaries. Today's plan will accomplish no different.

There's more . . .

Oneida County's program was described by EPA last year as raising "agricultural issues," and that it would "identify and rank local environmental health issues," and "educate the public on environmental health issues by involving community members in decision-making and priority setting processes" -- which is somewhat different from the focus on brownfields in today's article. Why the original proposal to have this group involve people in "decision-making" when we already have duly elected officials to deal with these issues who should be seeking public imput? Don't we have more than enough "educational" programs? And now, why the change in focus to brownfields, especially when the ground has already been covered ? It's just an excuse to spend money.

What is interesting is who are among the program's prospective partners as listed by USEPA : Planned Parenthood Mohawk Hudson, Inc., Learning Disability Association of the Mohawk Valley, Catholic Charities of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Syracuse, Oneida County Historical Society, and Utica Safe Schools Healthy Students Partnership, Inc. (the latter of which rings a bell). What do these groups have to do with brownfields? What do they have to do with environmental health?

Why announce the program and solicit applications from municipalities today, 5/30, when the deadline for applications is 6/6, only a week away? Is this group serious, or does it already know who will be getting the money?

We already know what sites need to be cleaned up, and the road blocks involved. We don't need some new entity doing another study. To Fault Lines, this looks like just another example of the "clique" of "do gooders" (well-connected non-governmental organizations) creating/perpetuating their own jobs and promoting their private agendas by helping themselves to OUR MONEY. What's worse, as the Utica Safe Schools Partnership illustrates, it becomes an opportunity for government to circumvent "open-government" laws by acting through private organizations, and for private organizations to have access to confidential governmental information on businesses and individuals they otherwise would be unable to obtain. We pay for this. Nice deal, eh?

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