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Opposing views need to be heard Opposing views need to be heard

The Times: Serving Beaver County, PA since 1874

By The Times Editorial Board

When Beaver County Commissioners Sandie Egley and Daniel Camp addressed a packed house Tuesday morning at the annual State of the County breakfast, the main topic on everyone’s mind was the Shell Chemicals Co. ethane cracker plant to be built in Potter Township.

Egley, when asked to describe the state of the county in one word, chose “exciting,” noting that everyone in the room knew what she meant.

Camp went with “radar,” saying that “Beaver County is on everybody’s radar” and that the area is going to become “the next up and coming place to raise a family.”

The $6 billion cracker plant project got the green light from Shell last June, although the company has spent hundreds of millions on site work, remediation and rerouting of roads in the area over the past four years. The prospect of some 6,000 construction jobs during the building period and nearly 600 permanent jobs once completed has many people excited about the potential economic boom for the area.

More important, according to many analysts, are the related industries and jobs that are expected to accompany the plant. From the governor to union officials to local leaders, everyone agrees that the cracker plant is an economic game changer for western Pennsylvania.

That is not to say, however, that the project is without its critics. Several representatives of the Beaver County Action Team and Beaver County Marcellus Awareness Committee met with some Times news staff members last week to express their concerns over the impact the plant might have on the health and safety of county residents.

The representatives, who have made their concerns known at public hearings, made it clear that they don’t believe this is a situation where people have to choose between the economic possibilities the plant holds and the health and safety of their families. They believe both goals are achievable, but only if concerned residents continue to press for higher standards on air-quality monitoring and other environmental issues.

Egley and Camp told those gathered at the Beaver County Chamber of Commerce breakfast that they are satisfied with the current state of regulations and that extra requirements aren’t needed to blunt the potential environmental impact of the cracker plant. The BCAT and BCMAC representatives disagree, saying Shell could, and should, do more to ensure the health and welfare of the community.

There is no clear-cut answer in this debate and, ultimately, everyone wants the same thing — a resurgent economic base for Beaver County that does not compromise the environment or create increased health and safety concerns.

That’s why it’s equally important that we don’t view either side as a villain or impediment to progress as the project moves forward. It’s easy to cast anyone with an environmental concern into the “tree-hugger” category, or elected officials who support the project as shills for the company. Neither generalization is fair or accurate.

Democracy is built on the exchange of ideas and positions, and the willingness for both sides to engage in discussion and debate. Unfortunately, over the past few years, we seem to have lost the ability to listen to opposing views without personally attacking or demonizing those presenting the argument.

The Shell cracker plant promises to be the biggest economic force in Beaver County in the last 100 years. Those groups that have concerns about environmental factors are just as important as those that support the construction and operation of the plant. After all, we’re all in this together.


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