The irony of coming clean with the EPA

August 31, 2010

Colleges and universities around the country have been doing peer audits regarding their compliance with rules and regulations overseen by the Environmental Protection Agency.  Instead of federal agents visiting a campus to inspect, a team of folks drawn from other colleges and universities visits a campus and produces a report noting violations that need correcting.  (Everyone has violations.)  Once the report is filed, the college has 60 days to clean up the violations or to seek an extension before coming into compliance.

I love this idea: we all help each other get better at proper environmental safety matters, and the heavy hand of G-men never come into it (unless of course, we fail to correct the violations).

At Earlham, we had our peer audit late in the spring, and received our report late in the summer.  We’re working hard on cleaning up the violations.  But there’s an irony in some of the corrective actions.  For example, a student group has been collecting used batteries in well and clearly labeled cardboard boxes scattered around campus to make sure those batteries get a proper disposal.  That’s a no-no: if there’s any collection container, it has to be much, much better than a cardboard box. Likely our student volunteers are going to have to get out of that business or purchase expensive compliant containers. We’ve been collecting grease from the dining hall in a big green metal container so that it could be recycled for other uses.  That’s a no-no, too: to be compliant we’d need to collect the grease in a container that had secondary containment (would catch and contain the grease if the first container were breached).  Another do-good recycling effort may get scrapped unless we can devise a creative solution.  The goal in this case is also laudable — the EPA doesn’t want spilled grease to go down a storm drain into nearby Clear Creek.

I don’t think I’m complaining; I want us to have environmentally safe and friendly practices.  But there is some irony here, isn’t there?

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About Doug Bennett

Doug Bennett is Emeritus President and Professor of Politics at Earlham College. He has a wife, Ellen, and two sons, Tommy (born 1984) and Robbie (born 2003).
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