Opinion Columns & Blogs

Andrew McHenry: Don't go down the path that leads toward Treece

My grandmother gave me a copy of an old Kansas newspaper from Oct. 30, 1935. Looking it over, I took special interest in a full-page ad for the zinc and lead mines of Cherokee County.

The ad proclaimed: "In the further development and utilization of its great surface and subsurface natural resources lies the future prosperity of Kansas citizens."

The ad also boasted of consumer advantages: "Don't waste money on cheap paints. Lead and zinc pigments make the best paints."

This made me think of the town of Treece, down along the Oklahoma border. It was once a prosperous little mining town, but decades of abuse turned it into a wasteland.

News accounts described kids riding bikes around huge piles of toxic mining waste called "chat." Silicosis and lung cancer affected large portions of the population.

Children went swimming in sinkholes filled with acid water, and the tests for blood lead levels came back so high in some kids that they reached the level of actual lead poisoning.

Congress approved a federal Environmental Protection Agency buyout last October, at a cost of $3.5 million. It is both interesting and fortunate, in these times of opposition to big government spending, that there was little opposition. The buyout was championed by Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan.

The government of previous generations allowed this patch of God's green earth to become a wasteland. The present question we must face is how to prevent this in the future.

The industrial barons of old have made their monies and are long gone. Taxpayers are left footing the bill. Meanwhile, our current elected officials are talking about new coal plants, deregulation, stripping the EPA of its powers and similar measures of "less intrusive government."

This anarchic path of environmental deregulation leads to things like what happened in Treece. We will reap what we sow if we go this route. And the worst part is that future generations will be the ones who suffer.