Opinion: Permit to pollute? Freedom to clean air & water this July 4th

By MICHAEL STRAND

Published: 06-30-2023 6:00 AM

Michael Strand is a Bedford Town Councilor and sitting citizen representative to the State PFAS Commission.

The Department of Environmental Services is currently considering whether or not to grant a permanent “air emissions permit” to Saint-Gobain for its Merrimack plant.

I believe that what has already happened, air already emitted for the last 20 years; and the drinking water, groundwater, and human beings subsequently contaminated must be considered in the decision whether or not to grant this permanent air emissions permit to Saint-Gobain.

While I understand mitigation provisions including the thermal oxidizer are in place, there are people in our towns who after 20 years cannot on doctors’ orders afford even 1/10th or 1/100th of parts per trillion exposure to PFAS in their water or blood. They cannot be exposed to any. Zero.

How then can we justify granting a permit allowing two pounds of PFAS, GenX, or other unregulated, undefined PFAS proximate chemicals to be emitted annually?

If this plant were in Sunapee or Concord, Bedford or Waterville Valley, would this permit be granted?

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Even if we believe that Saint-Gobain will take good faith efforts to mitigate, filter, and destroy the majority of harmful hormone and immuno-disruptors in the air they emit, how can we justify further emissions with anyrisk, with anytrace of PFAS-group chemicals, until full remediation occurs?

Until every well is remediated, every Point-of-Entry-Treatment-System installed, every water line run, and every maximum contaminant limit (MCL) in every affected area determined by consensus, until the Groundwater Management Zone is fully negotiated and implemented, until health studies and data gathering complete, how can we ethically move forward, now, with this permit?

In addition, taxpayers already polluted and infringed upon by Saint-Gobain air emissions via groundwater contamination must indirectly fund regulatory enforcement by DES staff, time, and efforts.

How can we call this a pro-business decision for New Hampshire when the costs of cleaning up PFAS far outweigh any short-term economic benefit, except to the French multinational netting more than $50 billion in annual revenue at the expense of New Hampshire?

How can we cite jobs when the current use of unregulated GenX represents an internal worker safety issue and a walking HR liability disaster waiting to happen?

We come back to this problematic, recurrent theme of taxpayers subsidizing our own corporate chemical pollution.

No matter how much or how little PFAS is emitted, how many compounds used; no matter how degraded, filtered, or defused, this should be ethically, legally, and practically unacceptable.

I would reasonably implore DES to issue an indefinite stay on this permit issuance until we achieve the aforementioned remediation and research goals together as a public-private partnership, community, and as a state.

Even if Saint-Gobain meets the legal requirements for this permit, I do not believe that DES or this government is legally obligated to grant it.

In any democracy, the requirements for public health, general well-being, and the constitutionally guaranteed rights of life, liberty, and in this case freedom from chemical pollution (in short, the public good) must both supersede and exist as precedent to bureaucratic regulatory legality.

If New Hampshire exists as a constitutional legal entity with both inherent and explicit responsibilities to its people, then any electoral body or legislated regulatory statutes concerning compliance must proceed from, first and foremost, the people.

In the case of this permit, I believe if DES chooses to follow the law, they will be breaking it.

By granting this permit and risking further harm to the people this agency and government are designed to represent and protect, you will not only violate the most sacred provisions of the New Hampshire constitution but do further irreparable damage to the public trust.

This is not a fight that Saint-Gobain can or will win if our elected leaders are willing to fight it.

I urge Governor Chris Sununu to intervene on behalf of the people who elected him and issue an executive order to stop this permit.

This is an opportunity to put people over profits, declare independence over industrial lobbyists, and offer us the parting gift of a future free from chemical air and water pollution on this Fourth of July.

The public comment period has been extended through July 5. Written comments may be submitted via email or U.S. mail to the NHDES administrator.

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