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Sounding Off

Roger von Butow

“I been cheated, been mistreated, when will I be loved?”

-- The Everly Brothers

Our part of Planet Earth, South Orange County, has been singing these


lyrics recently. Yet politicians and public agencies continue to spin a

rosy tale of celebratory action that is contradicted by the increasing

degradation of our surroundings.

To paraphrase comedian Henny Youngman: Take the parameters and


guidelines pursued in regards to “environmental compliance,” please. Take

them away as examples of “ahead of the curve” behavior.

Implementing the decrees of the statutory regulators is like getting a

“D” in your high school chemistry class. You did not excel, you just

didn’t flunk. Now we have “pass/fail” classes, based on this same


Know anyone who brags about just barely squeaking by? Well, the

parties entrusted with starting aggressive programs and enforcing our


laws are braying endlessly without any work product. Not one municipality

or entity in the whole county has ever totally met the Stormwater Permit

(NPDES) standards mandated, integrated the programs outlined or let alone

obtained a “C.”

A good place to begin “debunking” the facade of preventive measures is

with the studies. A veritable plethora of monitoring continues, clearly

necessary for any long-term, scientific database for ecologically related



This enables researchers to have a benchmark of where we are, and then

we can reflect upon our subsequent actions as having made a difference.

The separation from proactive versus reactive emerges quickly.

Observing the Titanic go down might provide valuable insights that

could have precluded future disasters in the North Atlantic shipping

lanes. Not much solace, however, for the passengers, the band or the crew


County and city officials, be they appointed or elected, continue to

typify our environmental crises with words like, “We’re studying the

problem intensely,” “We’re headed in the right direction” or “We’ve

turned the corner,” all predicated upon looking without doing.

Put a stethoscope on a dying patient, say to yourself “Yep, he dying.”

Have you cured the patient? I don’t think so, and neither does the

terminally ill. Consider “non-point source pollution,” known as urban

runoff, acknowledged by the Environmental Protection Agency in terms of

distress that caused the NPDES process to begin originally around 1987.

We know what’s in it, how it happens, and why it’s bad. It’s been

studied ad naseum. The agencies with the responsibility for cleaning it

up act as if it were only recently brought to their attention. Surprise.

As a society we’ve been looking at the real culprits in the mirrors of

our homes and businesses for years. Us. You and I. Time to be held

accountable, time to be responsible adults, time to clean up the mess

we’ve created.

When a child, you couldn’t wait to be a grown-up, thinking it equated

with limitless freedom. Think again. Maturity brings the burden of

behavior that mandates discipline, preceded and succeeded by appropriate

gestures. When we’re ready to accept the challenges that necessitate

correction of our environmental faults, when we’re poised to restore and

preserve, only then can we boast of our compliance prowess. Going that

“extra yard,” lifting the bar so to speak, is a goal we need to set. Life

is more than paying attention or producing chest-pounding rhetoric and

brochures. With global warming, we’ve got enough hot air. Effort needs to

supplement cheerleading. Words matched by action.

Take Zeno of Elea, who formulated his “Paradox of the Half” that begs

the question before us: Halve the distance between two objects or points

in space ad infinitum. They never meet or touch, no matter how many times

you halve that distance into eternity. Approaching compliance is no time

for champagne corks to pop. Until we apply what we’ve already learned,

let’s not get complacent, or we’ll be playing catch-up forever by merely

complying and getting that big red “D” on our report card. Not really

something you’d proudly take home to mom, is it?

* ROGER VON BUTOW is Founder of the Clean Water Now! Coalition and

co-founder of the South Orange County Watershed Conservancy. E-mail: