In December of 1999, the US Environmental Protection Agency promulgated a series of regulations addressing storm water discharges (CFR 64 FR 68721 (PDF)). These regulations require that “suitable barriers” be erected around all construction sites and places of disturbed soils with the laudable goal of preventing storm runoff during the construction phase from filling nearby streams with silt and mud. They did not specify if “suitable” meant effective for the stated purpose, or convenient for the relatively untrained persons who inspect local building sites.
With no guidance as to what “suitable” means, all responsible state and local enforcement agencies went wholesale for Theatre. Unable to grasp the complexities of low profile, porous sand and gravel berms and dikes that would be unique to every single site, they decided instead to define compliance as the act of surrounding the entire site with a 16” tall black plastic ribbon. The Black Curtain of Death (BCD) was born. No construction project anywhere in America is allowed to break ground without first spooling hundreds of yards of PVC plastic around itself like a banner to proclaim full compliance with the letter, if not the intent, of the statute. Flimsy, awkward, and utterly incapable of retaining even a fraction of the water that could impound behind them in a small rainstorm, the BCD was an overnight sensation for the PUBEs* of local environmental enforcement. Easy to see – easy to fine any contractor without one – more time to check up on the activity in your 401K.
There is a rich history of Theater in lieu of Substance in government, but probably none so special as the Transportation Safety Administration, which has been lampooned by others, [See the South Park episode on the Toilet Safety Administration] Essentially the entire budget of the TSA is spent to create a theater effect of airtight security when such is not actually the case.
TSA staff seem to be selected solely as display mannequins for the fake “policeman” shirts that cost taxpayers $50 million, or $350 each. This emphasis on surface area also makes them dim witted, slow moving human shields with enough BMI to shield any skinny terrorist who might want to use them with a huge margin of safety. But I digress…
The life history of a BCD is simple. They are mauled by heavy equipment around the site and are soon partially buried. They collapse and are overrun with sediment in those small sections where they actually stand in the way of storm runoff. They become an afterthought buried in weeds. Some are eventually pulled back up and hauled to a landfill, but most are simply buried in place, a twisted plastic corpse lying a few inches under the topsoil of the project’s final landscaping.
A BCD in failure mode at the intersection of Maple and Liberty in Ann Arbor—actually obstructing the sidewalk
Since 1999, the US annual production of this disposable plastic item has gone from essentially zero to more than 800 million pounds. Petroleum products that might otherwise have served a useful purpose like power generation or transportation are converted instead into theatrical black plastic, and then buried. No sediment is retained by them, no pollution is prevented. Instead, the BCD spends a short period of time as a stage prop, maturing into 100% solid, un-recycled waste.
There is, of course, a simple solution to this. The EPA could affect it with a simple addition to the CFR. Congress could do it by dropping a single sentence into an appropriate bill, like the Clean Water Act, or any omnibus piece of legislation that pleases their fancy. It would state, “It shall be unlawful to use plastic, metal, or any artificial or synthetic material of any kind in the construction of temporary sedimentation barriers for the purpose of compliance with CFR 64 FR 68721.” Boom. Now you’re left with sod, straw, gravel, sand, rocks, and sticks. Any 8-year-old could have told you in the first place that those are the best things for making dams.
*PUBE is an acronym for Public Employee, a malingering sub-population within all those who are compensated directly or indirectly by taxpayers via any of the myriad local, county, state, and federal bureaucracies. Their health and pension benefits are excessive, their income unearned. They neglect their public responsibilities mainly for personal gain, but also to advance the agenda of the political party owning their fealty. Dr. Nicole Lurie is a PUBE. Had she been doing her job as Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response at HHS which is, “…to lead the nation in preventing, responding to and recovering from adverse health effects of public health emergencies” there would be no 2014 Ebola crisis. There would not have been a need to appoint a second, new “Ebola Czar” (see also ‘Theatre in lieu of substance’). But Ms. Lurie was actually spending her time trying to route federal research dollars to Ron Perelman, a large Democratic donor, so she was unaware that there was such a disease.