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The Daily Journal (Illinois): Editorial: Lessons from Shell

12/28/2007, 10:52 am

News Note: Shell Oil settles pipeline spill case from 1988 for $46 million. Twenty million will go to build new water lines in Limestone Township. Another $26 million will compensate 1,500 residents.

If you follow the timeline, it goes like this. It took Shell six years to begin providing pure water for residents. It took nine years for the state and the county to sue Shell. It took 14 years for the spill to reach Wiley Creek.

One resident remembers buying his Limestone Township home four years after the break, and received no notice at all that 100,000 gallons of gasoline had seeped into the water system.

It’s hardly an inspiring story of government in action. Joe Yurgine, attorney for the plaintiff, says community leaders “tried to put a lid on what happened.”

Should local government be monitoring the environment? You bet. If anything, the Shell case demonstrates dramatically that not nearly enough is being done.

Up until the first part of 2007, county officials had a “delegation agreement” with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, empowering locally hired, trained inspectors to check on environmental problems, ranging from compost pile odors to nonpermitted dumping to spills in the river.

In fact, the inspections had been beefed up, under a better inspector, after the Illinois EPA had complained. But the county government, responding to a request by area mayors, pulled the plug on the local inspection process. Inspections would now be at the hand of the state EPA, when they might get around to it. The entire issue is still being reconsidered.

The net savings to the county treasury was $40,000.

Now, we have, in this corner, for years, opposed the massive burial of Chicago trash in this community. But whether you’re against that proposal, or for it, the recent settlement demonstrates the liability that can be incurred from environmental problems, years after a single incident.

One county offical said he believes what will eventually emerge is a system of tougher local inspections. We certainly hope so.

We need more inspections, not less; and inspecting more things; with tougher standards designed to prevent problems before they occur, or to spot them as quickly as possible. That’s a lot easier than making the payments later.

 http://www.daily-journal.com/archives/dj/display.php?id=410708

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