On a Clear Day You Still Can’t See


In New Hampshire, men with guns are walking through the woods near my house. They’re carrying thirty-ought-six’s with scopes or some such. Their cars or trucks, gun racks empty, are parked alongside the woods road I climb, where Slaughter Brook plunges down toward the Warner River. Deer, laughing at the hunters, leave tracks from their nightly perambulations, moving to safer hiding places. My favorite hunting season song: “It’s the second week of deer camp and all the guys are here, we drink, play cards and shoot the bull, but never shoot the deer…”

When I climb high enough into the Minks Hills, I have a good view of the rocky top of Mount Kearsarge. It’s less than a four-thousand footer, but looms over the 2,000 foot Minks and our town. My friend Bob who farms and logs high up on the Gore Road on the east side of Kearsarge, told me that when he was younger he really could see forever–the Presidential Range to the North, toward Boston to the South, the Seacoast to the East. Now Bob says even on a clear sunny day there’s the smog. It wreaths the horizon. The cerulean blue dissolving into haze.

The Bush administration just told us we can comment on their latest EPA led attack on the environment. As part of a political deal way back when, the old mid-west coal fired power plants, upwind from us, were exempted from the Clean Air Act unless they expanded or made major modifications. Now, Christie Whitman’s EPA proposes that maybe they can continue to belch poison forever by further weakening the rules for New Source Review. Bush and Whitman are the latest in a long line of politicians who’ve kept the poison spewing, just a bit more crass in their post-election rewards to polluters.

The problem is not just Bob Bower’s clear mountain view. It’s his kid’s lungs. She’s an athlete with asthma. And its the mercury, from the burning coal that rains down completely unregulated onto Slaughter Brook . That’s why the New Hampshire fish and Game advises me to tell my son Sam it’s not real smart to eat the trout or the bass. Maybe one a month is safe. If it’s not too big.

Mercury can damage the brain, vision, coordination. The U.N.’s International Chemical Safety Program calls the organic form of mercury, methylmercury, one of the six most serious pollution threats to the planet.

Coal plants are the largest source of mercury emissions. According to the EPA, power plants in Ohio, in 1999 emitted 6,715 pounds of mercury, while N.H.’s own poison belchers, the Merrimack and Schiller Plants spewed out 32. The poison is not just from our own backyards. And any federal regulation of coal plant mercury emissions is only planned to begin in 2004.

It’s pretty simple. Oil man economics. Lower costs, bigger markets, and higher profits for polluters. And we, just citizens, pay the costs of being poisoned. Oil man economics. Keep the profits private. Pass the costs along to strangers and to future generations.

As a large, active mammal on top of the food chain, human beings have become a sink for a witches brew of poisons. Poisons are concentrated to varying degrees by the animals and plants we eat, or in the milk our kids drink, for example, mercury or dioxin or radioactive strontium 90. And there are no warnings except for the mercury salted fresh water fish, and deer liver spiced with cadmium, that no one sells to us.

We take our kids to the doctor. And they tell us they’re sick. The don’t say they’ve been poisoned by the stuff that is allowed to rain down upon them for the sake of short term profit . You prove that with statistics. You do that after too many of the kids are sick. And you and your kid are now just a number.

Who’s more dangerous, my neighbors hunting who might, by accident, wound one person every twenty-five years, or the bureaucrats who write computer programs that say it’s ok to go ahead and maybe poison my son Sam every day? Damn them.

To protect our families, instead of going mad or becoming numb with worry, it’s time for lots of us to raise our voices, and to go out and organize.

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