Decomission the Pipeline

Pulling leaky, malfunctioning pipelines from the ground or water is technically easy yet politically difficult. The difficulties faced by homeowners, citizens and tribal governments when they do not want an oil pipeline on their land shows how embedded, outdated systems continue to confer public funds on a few private enterprises.

Stopping a proposed pipeline requires protest, lawsuits, media campaigns, divestment by investors and environmental legislation. When a pipeline corporation, like the Canadian Enbridge that runs lines around and through the Great Lakes, decides to decommission a pipe, they prefer to simply leave it in place to decay in a contaminated ribbon across the land. This, for example, is Enbridge’s desire when it comes to Line 3 that runs across Minnesota. Citizen groups have been active in demanding that Enbridge clean up its Line 3 mess and desist from causing more damage to the Lake Superior and Mississippi watersheds. As of this writing , an expanded Line 3 is moving at a steady clip through the Minnesota approval process.

Decommissioning American rivers as pipelines should be more straightforward. With the expansion of trucking (so-called logistics) and the decline in fossil fuel demand, the number of jobs and return on investment for sizable public subsidies of the barge industry is negligible. Spills, leaks and runoffs threaten everyone between Lake Michigan and the Gulf of Mexico with dead zones and toxic floodwaters. A majority of Americans support the transition from dirty fossil fuels to renewable energy. Like people everywhere, they also need to drink water. Getting fossil fuel barges off the Mississippi and its tributaries would significantly improve drinking water and public health for everyone east of the Rocky Mountains.

The most direct way to decommission the Chicago Area Waterway System (CAWS) as a pipeline is to redirect the barge industry’s subsidy. Companies like the secretive, privately held Koch Industries do not need to be on the public dole. CEO Charles Koch, ranked in 2019 as the 11th-richest person in the world, is a vocal opponent of all forms of welfare. It seems high time that he got off it.

The negative impacts of our current mode of handling wastewater are diffuse. Combined sewer overflows pose health risks to anyone in Cook County whose home, basement or street floods during a rain event. The flushing of partly treated wastewater to the Gulf of Mexico swells flood waters along the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers and feeds an enormous Gulf Dead Zone. As documented by the Illinois State Water Survey, aquifers in multiple counties are teetering at dangerously low levels due to increasing population and industrial development.  

In communities along the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal and upper Des Plaines River, there is a desire for clean jobs that offer safety and stability for current and future generations. At present, diesel truck delivery is expanding in this area at a rapid rate due to construction of logistics centers visited by large vehicles. As communities in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood and near Joliet raise their voices in objection to the public health risks posed by heavy diesel trucking, they sound the call for the creation of labor that is sustainable in both economic and environmental terms.  

Instead of paying for the transport of commodities that speed up Climate Change and threaten property and livelihood, we could fund clean industry in Illinois.

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