Tag Archives: EPA

Back to the River

August 27, 2015 by

This article appears in July/August 2015 The Encounter.

The Asarco lead refinery along the Missouri riverfront was Omaha’s largest company in the mid-1880s. In fact, in the early 1900s, the Omaha plant was the largest lead refinery in the world.

The company then known as American Smelting and Refining Co. was looked upon as a good
corporate citizen.

But a century went by and people began learning how lead could pollute the Missouri River and the air, as well as possibly affect their health. Asarco began facing scrutiny, especially from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Not only was there a question of pollution, but the riverfront area that sustained other heavy industrial companies, including four battery companies, was unattractive and unappealing.

“The riverfront was drab and dismal and it was embarrassing to come to Omaha out of Eppley with all the industrial and junk yards and Asarco, which had the largest land piece on the riverfront,” Former mayor Hal Daub says.

Cleaning up the area was a first step toward a renovated riverfront. For Daub, focus on the riverfront began in 1995 with debate on renovating the old Civic Auditorium that sat in downtown Omaha. Daub proposed that, instead of spending city funds fixing up the auditorium, the city should clean up the riverfront and build a new auditorium there.

At the same time, he also saw developing the riverfront as key to downtown renewal. Prominent business leaders were telling him they might move their companies from the dying downtown.

Daub wanted a cleaned-up riverfront to anchor the renovation of downtown. So he picked up the phone and called Asarco’s corporate office in New York.

A former U.S. congressman, Daub knew his way around the Superfund and federal rules on cleaning up sites determined to be hazardous to human health.

“I knew Asarco qualified as a Superfund and that Nebraska could shut down the plant,” Daub says.  “We got the title to the land and $50 million for cleanup from Asarco.”

He is quick to point out that Asarco was cooperative.  “They understood the dilemma they faced in a changing environment and they agreed.”

The facility closed in 1997 after 110 years.  Demolition ended in late 1999, completing the largest cleanup of lead-contaminated yards in history.

The closing of Asarco paved the way toward Omaha’s riverfront development. Today Lewis & Clark Landing and Storz Brewing Company sit where Asarco was located.

In 2000, the city added a second project in the revitalization effort, buying 107 acres from Union Pacific where the railroad’s shops sat near the river, after cleanup efforts directed by the EPA.

The cleanup also made way for the new convention center-arena in 2000, the project that had first turned Daub’s attention to the riverfront. Voters approved bonds to build near the riverfront what is now the CenturyLink Center Omaha.

The Union Pacific land also now hosts TD Ameritrade Park, the Hilton Hotel, and parking lots, according to Greg Peterson, who was then the city’s assistant planning director.

Union Pacific and Asarco were both important to an integrated plan for development along the riverfront, says Daub.

“Sometimes you have to tear down old stuff because you can’t see past the ugliness of what’s there in order to envision what could be there,” says Daub.

ASARCO

Let States Deal Individually 
with fuel dependence

February 1, 2014 by

Large, centralized government perpetuates stupidity in a manner that defies reason. The framers of the Constitution understood this well, as reflected in the decentralization of power to the individual states. Each state, with its varied interests, was to individually be an incubator of better ideas. The union was to be a competitive relationship as well as a collective one.

But today, with the very best of intentions and far removed from their constituents, our representatives in Washington enact gigantic solutions. Solutions devoid of reality.

The Renewable Fuel Mandate is one such gigantic solution to the perceived problem of Peak Oil and dependence on imported oil. Now that we know all of our oil needs are well satisfied by crude oil production in the Americas, prudence would dictate that Congress end the mandate (in other words, farm subsidies).

But alas, no.

There is a loud sucking sound in the corn-producing states. Interests big and small depend on the federal mandate, one way or another. From tractor sales, farmland sales, petroleum fertilizer sales, and ethanol distillation, a relatively small number of people profit from the general public thanks to a silly solution to a non-existent problem.

Had the ethanol mandate solution been left to individual states, it would be easier to correct. As it is being answered on a federal level, the bureaucratic momentum 
appears unstoppable.

An illustrative example is the reluctance of even Iowa farming communities to use ethanol-laced gasoline. They know what damage it causes to expensive engines. Then there’s the fertilizer-caused dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, the high water consumption, the high energy use to produce ethanol, the willingness of using food for fuel, the early caucus in Iowa, and the revolving door between Wall Street and Washington, D.C.

Even Europeans are waking up to the stupidity of renewable fuels. They see that vast areas of rain forest are being cleared to produce “green” diesel; that ethanol burns dirty in engines designed to burn gasoline, polluting the air; and that the lower energy content in ethanol reduces gas mileage in engines designed to burn gasoline. For all these reasons and more, the E.U. is proposing to limit the renewable content in their diesel and gasoline to 6 percent.

The increasing mandate in the U.S. is forcing gasoline refiners to purchase Renewable Identification Numbers (RINs) or ethanol credits because they have hit the 10 percent blend wall. Wall Street gamblers (such as JP Morgan Chase, recently fined $920 million for their business practices) saw this coming and purchased all the federal credits they could get their hands on.

The unattainable mandate paired with the forced purchase of RIN credits has caused the price of the credits to climb 2,000 percent. This huge Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) expense will be forced upon the consumer in the form of big gasoline price increases. Yet one more federally mandated wealth transfer from the average guy to the gamblers with the cozy relationships 
with legislators.

But as long as the EPA continues to say, “Who cares about reality,” the Renewable Fuel Mandate will continue. As gasoline consumption continues to decline, the percentage of ethanol will have to increase to meet the increasing mandate. Therefore, our well-intended but dumb solution will get 
even dumber.

What we need to ask is whether the Renewable Fuel Mandate makes sense. Economically? Environmentally? Would each of the corn producing states individually impose the same mandate within their state borders?

The answer to each is a resounding no.

Any views and/or opinions expressed in “The Know-It-All” are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of B2B Omaha magazine, or its parent company, and/or 
its affiliates.