Observing Earth Day

Will your treatment plant mark April 22 with any sort of public commemoration? Let us share your event with our readers.

I was a senior in high school at the time of the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970. In observance, I joined a small group of classmates who organized a Saturday morning cleanup of the beach in our Lake Michigan town.

Apparently we didn’t organize very well, because no one outside our group showed up, and even some of our own fellow planners weren’t there. We gave up in frustration and went home.

Thankfully, Earth Day took deeper root nationally and worldwide than it did in our community that day. Progress on clean air, water and land has been remarkable, and it continues. To cite just one example, diesel vehicle engines starting in 2010 have selective catalytic reduction systems that drive exhaust oxides of nitrogen (NOx) down to near zero. That’s on top of particulate filters that clean the soot from stack emissions.

Once these new-generation engines become dominant in the population — that will take time — our air will be a lot cleaner. Of course, one of the next environmental frontiers is nutrient removal at wastewater treatment plants.


Growth by stages

It’s been interesting to observe progress on the environment since the first Earth Day, launched by Gaylord Nelson, a U.S. Senator from my home state of Wisconsin. The early 1970s of course saw passage of the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and a great deal more landmark legislation.

Another big wave hit around 1990 and the 20th Earth Day as recycling took hold and became a national and global priority. About a decade later came the sustainability movement. Then in 2010 we began seeing truly serious attempts at legislation and social action to combat greenhouse gases and climate change.

It seems at every stage there has been conflict — proposed regulations met with doom-and-gloom prophesies of bankrupted businesses, devastated taxpayers, and wrecked economies. Of course, the predictions didn’t come true.

There are rumblings now in some quarters that nutrient reduction in wastewater will have crippling costs. Most likely that won’t be the case, the treatment plants will be upgraded, and our waters will be healthier by one more significant degree.


Who’s on board?

Businesses seem fully on board with sustainability now. In fact it’s fair to say large companies are ahead of the politicians and are being more responsible than many or most individual homeowners. Some are notably leading the way on energy efficiency and greenhouse gas reduction.

For one example: Few high-profile companies today erect a new corporate headquarters or other major building that isn’t certified green. How many of us take special pains to build green houses or to green the ones we already own?

A lot of all this progress must be credited to environmentalists, who have been derided for years as a bunch of tree-hugging, scruffy-haired, socialistic radicals. In fact they’re still portrayed that way amid the debate about climate change.

But think for a minute. Even if you don’t believe that climate change is real or is caused by humans, what is the downside to cutting carbon dioxide emissions by being more efficient, using renewable sources, and buying less fuel produced by unstable countries that don’t like us? Maybe the radicals will end up being right again.

Anyway it’s hard to ridicule them when you look back and compare how things were 41 years ago with how they are now.


The role of operators

Of course, treatment plant operators have been part of all the environmental progress — not by being political, not by holding demonstrations, just by quietly, effectively getting the job done, and in a great number of cases doing the job much better than the law says they have to. So members of the profession have every right and reason to celebrate Earth Day.

Are you celebrating this year? Tell us how your plant is marking the occasion, whether just among your own staff or in some sort of outreach to the community. Send a note to editor@tpomag.com that describes what you did. Include a picture or two if you can. We’ll publish some of the material in an upcoming issue of TPO.


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