Printer Friendly

Industry fights back.


The environment has become one of the major issues of the 1990s.

Sen. David Pryor, D-Ark., takes a walk in the woods with the head of the U.S. Forest Service. Days later, the Forest Service announces that clear-cutting will be halted in the Ouachita National Forest.

Wal-Mart begins a nationwide drop-off program for recyclable materials.

The federal government decides to place the northern spotted owl on the threatened species list and recommends that the timber harvest on federal lands in the northwest United States be reduced in order to protect the owl population.

In Arkansas, the major candidates for governor agree during the 1990 campaign that the Pollution Control and Ecology Commission must be restructured to better represent the concerns of environmentalists.

The public suddenly is demanding cleaner air and cleaner water. The media have jumped on the bandwagon, devoting countless inches of copy and hundreds of minutes of precious air time to the protests of citizen's groups.

In the public's eye, industry wears a black hat when it comes to protecting the environment.

It hasn't always been that way. In paper mill towns such as Camden and Crossett, it once was said that the fumes from the mills "smelled like bacon and eggs." During the 1950s and 1960s, chambers of commerce across the state regularly sent delegations to Washington to lobby Congress for money to dam or channelize local streams. In south Arkansas, oil was king, and hundreds of wells were dug with little thought given to the environmental impact. In east Arkansas, thousands of acres of wetlands were drained and hardwood forests were cleared so more soybeans, rice and cotton could be planted.

Now, public perception has turned against industry, and industry is fighting back.

Industry leaders say they are not fighting back in the sense that they want to pollute the state's air and water. They are fighting back in the sense that they believe they have a message to sell.

"In Arkansas, there is a distinct anti-industry slant when it comes to environmental reporting," says Charles Martin, the executive director of the Arkansas Federation of Water and Air Users Inc., an industry group.

"We have had to be more aggressive in getting our message out and countering the negativism we have experienced."

The federation was formed in 1967 as an attempt by industry to influence the drafting of state air and water policies. That was the first year of the Rockefeller administration and the beginning of a new era in Arkansas politics. Reform-minded legislators and bureaucrats pushed for environmental laws, an area that previously had been largely ignored by state government.

Twenty-four years later, industry officials say there has been much progress.

"There is not a city in Arkansas that is not in compliance with the Environmental Protection Agency's clean-air standards," says Charles Nestrud, a partner in the Little Rock law firm Chisenhall, Nestrud & Julian and the AFWAU's general counsel. "According to the EPA, Houston has dirty air. Los Angeles has dirty air. We don't have dirty air. The same is true for water. Compared to surrounding states, we've done a good job protecting the environment. The proof is in the pudding."

Newspaper War Victims

Industry representatives claim they are victims of the Little Rock newspaper war. They say the competition has resulted in sensationalized coverage of environmental issues with stories focusing on inflammatory quotes from representatives of more radical environmental groups such as Greenpeace.

"The first thing anybody who receives negative publicity does is blame it on the newspaper war," says Terry Horton, the executive director of the Arkansas Wildlife Federation. "That is getting a little old. It's just that in previous years we didn't know the degree to which some industries were polluting the state.

"It's ridiculous for industry to say there aren't problems. Go down to the oil-producing areas of south Arkansas and look at the land that has been destroyed. Go visit the streams in northwest Arkansas that have high nitrogen levels because of the poultry and hog wastes that are dumped into them. Go see the rivers that have been dammed in the Ouachita Mountains and the 90 percent of our wetlands that have been drained in east Arkansas."

"Listen, we're not a group of polluters trying to evade the law," says George Wade, the technical director of Arkansas Kraft Corp. at Morrilton. "We work closely with the EPA and the Department of Pollution Control and Ecology. But industry is stupid for not having done a better job of getting its message out.

"Who in the hell is somebody from Greenpeace to attack me? Who in his right mind doesn't want to breathe clean air and drink clean water? Yes, we've had some screwups. Yes, we have some bad apples. But I feel as strongly about the environment as anybody. I consider myself an environmentalist."

Several industry spokesmen say the most damage from a perception standpoint has been done by Bobbi Ridlehoover, the environmental reporter to the Arkansas Democrat. Ridlehoover became interested in the environment when she was the newspaper's Jacksonville reporter and covered the dioxin issue on a regular basis.

"If facts were protein, you would starve to death reading Bobbi's copy," says one industry official, who asked not to be identified because "I have to work with her."

"In almost every case, she either ignores the data or gets what we give her wrong," the official says.

Arkansas Gazette environmental reporter Caroline Decker and former environmental reporter Cary Bradburn are described as tough and opinionated but generally accurate.

Democrat Managing Editor John Robert Starr is quick to defend Ridlehoover and his newspaper's environmental coverage.

"Reporters assigned to cover the environment tend to identify with environmentalists, and that is unfortunate," Starr admits. "But they identify with the environmentalists because they like people who tell the truth, and environmentalists normally tell the truth."

"The vast majority of the industries in Arkansas are good corporate citizens, but that doesn't sell newspapers," says Nestrud. "Even the EPA understands industry doesn't possess the technology to achieve perfection. Yet you're dealing with people who are emotionally charged. Someone is always unhappy. If an industry is the loser at a compliance hearing, that industry usually gives up and goes away. But if a citizens' group is the loser, its members make a lot of noise and get covered by the media. Industry needs to find a way to get people to focus on the actual condition of the environment in Arkansas. By any standard, it's pretty damn good."

"We have to take the blame for this perception problem because we have not publicized our successes," Martin says.

Public Relations Help

As a step in that direction, AFWAU recently hired Little Rock public relations consultant Bob Sells, who was Southwestern Bell's chief Arkansas spokesman before taking early retirement from the company.

"These people's background is engineering, not public relations," Sells says.

Starr says the assertion by some industry representatives that they are not given the opportunity to tell their side of the story is "a bald-faced misrepresentation. We always contact both sides of an issue. The industries get offended if we even quote people who disagree with them. The environmental groups hold meetings, and we cover them. If industry wants to hold meetings dealing with the environment, we'll cover those meetings, too."

Martin charges that environmental groups such as Greenpeace and the Environmental Defense Fund don't realize that technology is "very expensive to develop and takes time. Amazing technological strides have been made. By the year 2000, this country will be spending 3 percent of its gross national product on pollution control. That is more than any industrialized nation in the world. You reach a certain level past which only minimal improvements are possible."

"It's known as the 80-20 rule," says Rbert Blanz, manager of the Little Rock office of the national consulting engineering company CH2M Hill. "You correct 80 percent of the pollution problem with 20 percent of the cost. It takes the other 80 percent of the money to correct the last 20 percent of the pollution problem."

Blanz says industry "deserved the black eye" it was given when the environmental movement began to grow in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

"The image of the belching smokestack and the dead fish was close to reality," he says. "Industry had a lot to be ashamed of. The other side of the coin is that companies have come a long way. There have been dramatic reductions in what you see discharged into the air and water. And there are diligent efforts taking place to reduce the discharge levels even further.

"The problem for industry is that environmental proponents are much more sophisticated than they once were. They know how to get their message out. Compared with what the environmentalists are doing, it's not real sexy when a corporation issues a news release saying it spent a certain amount of money or hired a certain number of people to reduce emissions."

Playing On Emotions

Joe Nix, a professor at Ouachita Baptist University and a noted environmentalist, says it is natural for environmental groups to play on emotions.

"I once was as guilty as anyone," he says. "I had a set of slides I could show to a garden club that would bring the ladies to tears. The environmental groups traditionally have not had the technical resources of industry. The alternative to presenting a study is to stand up and holler. That is not to say hollering is a sound way to get things done.

"When it comes to the environment, not having enough information is a constant problem. For government and industry, the story is the same - there is not enough money and not enough time to do environmental research. PC&E ought to do more research. Our universities ought to do more research. We need information before we make decisions."

The AWF's Horton asserts that most environmental groups are not inherently anti-industry and anti-growth.

"At the same time, we're not in favor of small fines and slaps on the wrist from the EPA and PC&E when there have been major violations," he says.

Rep. Mike Wilson of Jacksonville has had verbal battles for years with environmental groups on the dioxin issue. Last year, Wilson referred to such groups as "a bunch of crazies" on ABC's "Prime Time Live."

"If people would become educated, they would know that most of what these so-called environmentalists are putting out is a bunch of crap," Wilson says. "The problem is that the industry side of the story is scientific and hard for the average citizen to understand. For instance, I've passed water and sewer bills that have had a positive effect on the environment. From a media standpoint, however, that has zero sex appeal. The few bad actors in industry get all of the attention."

Wilson consistently has maintained that dioxin does not pose a cancer risk to humans. It has been shown to cause cancer in certain laboratory animals, but its effect on humans is disputed among scientists. Like others, Wilson alleges media bias on environmental issues.

"If dioxin is not dangerous, Mike Wilson should drink a glass of it," Starr says. "For Mike Wilson to call someone biased is ludicrous. He's the most biased person in the Legislature. He's a tool of big business."

Martin says the Wilson-Starr debate is an example of the types of problems the AFWAU faces.

"The environment has become a political passion," he says. "Americans are more concerned than ever about protecting this country's natural beauty. Because of that, it's more important than ever that they understand that corporate America has a commitment to the environment and is spending billions of dollars on pollution control."

Martin notes that the Georgia-Pacific Corp. now has a vice president in charge of developing and monitoring company environmental policies and programs; that Du Pont uses environmental performance when evaluating its personnel; that the amount of hazardous solid wastes generated by the chemical industry declined 41.5 percent from 1981-87.

"The bad news is what makes the headlines," says Van Reeder, an environmental health engineer for the Trane Co. at Fort Smith and the AFWAU president. "Too often, the truth doesn't get out. Countering bad publicity is the great challenge of the 1990s."

Empty rhetoric?

"If industry is so concerned about the environment, why don't industry leaders ever oppose environmental disasters such as the effort to widen the Ouachita River or dam the North Fork of the Saline River?" asks Horton. "Industry in this state has never met a project it didn't like. Because of that, we must have stringent regulations, and they have to be enforced."

Industry representatives maintain there is a fine line between protecting the environment and becoming so restrictive that the state's economy is severely damaged.

"Both sides ultimately have the same goal," says Wade. "We want a clean environment. The question is how to get there. Environmentalists must understand that companies have limited resources. We're being forced to spend billions of dollars on reporting requirements that don't do a damn thing to clean up the air.

"People want to have their cake and eat it too. They attack us for polluting, but they're not going to freeze in the winter or burn up in the summer. When they get home, they are going to turn that switch on."

Nix concedes there have been some overly restrictive regulations.

"Too much regulation can mean too little enforcement," he says. "Sometimes we have to change the standards to make them enforceable. If you make them too restrictive, you are going to end up hurting the thing you are trying to protect.

"Environmental issues are so emotional that people rarely step back and ask, |What are the facts?' We're all to blame for that."



Van Reeder Federation President Trane Co. Fort Smith

Ted Bounds Federation President-elect Ethyl Corp. Magnolia

Jarvis Harper Federation Vice President ALCOA Bauxite

Bob Gasper Federation Secretary-Treasurer AT&T Little Rock

Hanlon Ingram International Paper Co. Pine Bluff

Bill Neel Reynolds Metals Co. Arkadelphia

Johnny Carter Georgia-Pacific Corp., Crossett

Jim Odendahl Weyerhaeuser Co. Hot Springs

Gene Newman Tyson Foods Inc. Springdale

Charles Knott Remington Arms Co. Lonoke

Glen Bassett Lion Oil Co. El Dorado

Joe Pascale National Filtration Corp. Star City

Jim Ross Arkansas Eastman Co. Batesville

Charles Nestrud Federation General Counsel Chisenhall, Nestrud & Julian Little Rock

George Wade Arkansas Kraft Corp., Morrilton

Tyndall Dickinson McGeorge Contracting Co. Sweet Home

Robert Blanz CH2M Hill Southeast Inc. Little Rock

Richard Blankenbeker Koppers Industries Inc. North Little Rock

Paul Means Arkansas Power & Light Co. Little Rock

John Powell Powell Consultants Inc. Hot Springs

Stan Jorgensen ENSCO Inc. Little Rock

Robert Shumate Scott Nonwovens Rogers

Jim Warnock El Dorado Chemical Co. El Dorado

Raymond Germany Arkla Energy Resources Shreveport, La.



Dave Harrington Director Arkansas Industrial Development Commission Little Rock

Bob Lamb Director Corporate & Community Development Southwestern Energy Co. Fayetteville

Ron Russell Executive Vice President Associated Industries of Arkansas Little Rock

PHOTO : WORKING THE HALLS: Charles Martin (pictured on the right), executive director of the

PHOTO : Arkansas Federation of Water and Air Users Inc., lobbies on behalf of industry at the Capitol. The environment has become a hot issue politically, and Martin thinks industry in Arkansas often is portrayed unfairly as polluting the state's air and water.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Journal Publishing, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:reversing public opinion about industry as cause of environmental pollution in Arkansas
Author:Nelson, Rex
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Feb 11, 1991
Previous Article:Prescription for success.
Next Article:Shooting for no. 1.

Related Articles
AEF recognizes Arkansas industries for pollution prevention.
Arkansas Eastman has history of environmental excellence.
Partnership between Arkansas, UK fosters exchange program.
Agencies work together for environmental protection, economic development.
`Let's Sue the Bastards!' (or, `Why Litigation Works').
ADEQ seeks to protect environment through regulation.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2016 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters