How often do you hear sermons about the just treatment of employees from today’s pulpits period? Not often and forget expositing any moral obligations like this:

What are the sins of Masters?

1.  Unadvised entertainment of sinful Servants.  2.  Negligence in not instructing them, (in the Fear of God, and in some lawful Calling) and not using Religious Exercises with them. [This refers to servants living in the master’s home – DR] 3.  Not admonishing nor correcting them, or doing it in an ill manner: grieving more when they fail in their Business, than when they are slack in God’s Service; 4.  Giving them an ill example, and using light behaviour before them.  5. Detaining their Wages from them; and not recompensing their Labors, by giving them a due reward, when they are with them, and when they part from them.  6.  Neglect of them in Sickness: unjust stopping of their Wages for that time.  7. Not relieving them (if they be able) in their Age, who have spent their youth in their Service.

James Ussher, A body of divinity: or, the sum and substance of Christian religion, ed. Michael Nevarr (1648; Herndon VA, 2007), p. 238.

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As I have stated before:

As part of their obligation to pursue stewardship, businesses and corporations must treat their workers with basic human dignity within the workplace. Workers cannot be treated as just simply another “cost of production,” rather they are persons made in the image of God worthy of decent and honest treatment.

Many argue we no longer need worker protections in the workplace; just let the market handle it.

We need our lawmakers to not have tunnel vision and bend exclusively to the demands of business and the economy.

In a behind-the-scenes look at modern conditions at one Amazon warehouse, evidence remains that corporations continue to abuse their workers and show the need for the government to pursue justice within the workplace:

Workers said they were forced to endure brutal heat inside the sprawling warehouse and were pushed to work at a pace many could not sustain. Employees were frequently reprimanded regarding their productivity and threatened with termination, workers said. The consequences of not meeting work expectations were regularly on display, as employees lost their jobs and got escorted out of the warehouse. Such sights encouraged some workers to conceal pain and push through injury lest they get fired as well, workers said.

During summer heat waves, Amazon arranged to have paramedics parked in ambulances outside, ready to treat any workers who dehydrated or suffered other forms of heat stress. Those who couldn’t quickly cool off and return to work were sent home or taken out in stretchers and wheelchairs and transported to area hospitals. And new applicants were ready to begin work at any time.

The unequal bargaining position is compounded in today’s depression.

In a better economy, not as many people would line up for jobs that pay $11 or $12 an hour moving inventory through a hot warehouse. But with job openings scarce, Amazon and Integrity Staffing Solutions, the temporary employment firm that is hiring workers for Amazon, have found eager applicants in the swollen ranks of the unemployed. . .

The situation highlights how companies like Amazon can wield their significant leverage over workers in the bleak job market, labor experts say. Large companies such as Amazon can minimize costs for benefits and raises by relying on temporary workers rather than having a larger permanent workforce, those experts say.

“They can get away with it because most workers will take whatever they can get with jobs few and far between,” said Catherine Ruckelshaus, legal co-director of the National Employment Law Project, an advocacy group for low-wage workers. “The temp worker is less likely to complain about it and less likely to push for their labor rights because they feel like they don’t have much pull or sway with the worksite employer.”

Again, corporations merely see their workers as an expense.

The supply of temporary workers keeps Amazon’s warehouse fully staffed without the expense of a permanent workforce that expects raises and good benefits. Using temporary employees in general also helps reduce the prospect that employees will organize a union that pushes for better treatment because the employees are in constant flux, labor experts say. And Amazon limits its liability for workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance because most of the workers don’t work for Amazon, they work for the temp agency.

“Most of us are still too sane to piss in our own cistern, but we allow others to do so, and we reward them for it. We reward them so well, in fact, that those who piss in our cisterns are wealthier than the rest of us. – Wendell Berry

Smog covering Birmingham

The American Lung Association’s State of the Air 2011 report on America’s most polluted cities is out.

The State of the Air 2011 shows that the air quality in many places has improved during 2007-2009. Still, over 154 million people—just over one half the nation—suffer pollution levels that are too often dangerous to breathe. Despite great progress, air pollution lingers as a widespread and dangerous reality. It is important to note this progress, even as some seek to weaken the public health law that has improved the air we breathe since 1970, the Clean Air Act.

According to the American Lung Association report, out of 277 metro areas,  the Birmingham metro region was the 8th most polluted city for particle pollution in the nation. It ranked as the 21st most polluted for overly high ozone levels. Amazingly, it scored an F’s on all three levels of analysis. Montgomery County did not fair much better by scoring consistent D’s. In fact, each major metro area in Alabama scored F’s for high ozone levels, except Montgomery with their D.

Note, that my Congressman Mike Rogers is one of those determined to weaken eliminate our clean air and other public health laws and their enforcement. He and his fellow Republicans were praised by Lance Brown, executive director of PACE, this past week in an opinion piece appearing in the Montgomery Advertiser for “helping lead the effort to require sensible regulation and to rein in over-aggressive action” i.e. allowing our corporate overlords to pee in our common cisterns.

According to the Mr. Brown, Montgomery county has “no problem” with high ozone.  Although the American Lung Association gives Montgomery a D for unhealthily high ozone levels and a D for overly high particle pollution, Mr. Brown argues the EPA is “unnecessarily” raising the standards.

The PACE opinion includes this telling insight of perspective:

EPA Administrator Jackson, like all regulators, always offers some level of justification for new rules. In this case, EPA believes tougher ozone limits will produce public health benefits.

While improved public health is always a laudable goal, it is just as important to pursue solutions that also foster economic health, not fall backward with new restrictions on recruitment and growth. Stemming excessive and capricious regulation is part of that solution. That way, the River Region and other U.S. communities can all breathe a little easier.

Is public health merely a “laudable goal?” Public health should not be some secondary or tertiary concern for elected officers but rather a chief goal. I remember some where that the calling of our civil leaders is to “establish justice,” and “promote the general welfare” and “secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”

What are the consequences of being a resident of the 8th most polluted city for its residents?:

Breathing high levels of particle pollution day in and day out also can be deadly, as landmark studies in the 1990s conclusively showed. Chronic exposure to particle pollution can shorten life by one to three years. Other impacts range from premature births to serious respiratory disorders, even when the particle levels are very low.

Year-round exposure to particle pollution has also been linked to:

  • increased hospitalization for asthma attacks for children living near roads with heavy truck or trailer traffic;
  • slowed lung function growth in children and teenagers;
  •  significant damage to the small airways of the lungs;
  •  increased risk of dying from lung cancer; and
  •  increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease.68

The evidence warns that the death toll is high. Although no national tally exists, California just completed an analysis that estimates that 9,200 people in California die annually from breathing particle pollution.  An updated computer modeling of deaths from pollution caused by coal-fired power plant emissions, exposures which are more predominant outside of California, estimates roughly 13,200 deaths from particle pollution in the Midwest, New England and the Southeast.

Research into the health risks of 65,000 women over age 50 found that those who lived in areas with higher levels of particle pollution faced a much greater risk of dying from heart disease than had been previously estimated. Even women who lived within the same city faced differing risks depending on the annual levels of pollution in their neighborhood.

The Environmental Protection Agency released the most thorough review of the current research on particle pollution in December 2009. The Agency had engaged a panel of expert scientists, the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, to help them assess the evidence, in particular research published between 2002 and May 2009. EPA concluded that particle pollution caused multiple, serious threats to health.

Similar evidence exists for the health consequences for high ozone levels.

The vast majority of Birmingham particle pollution and ozone is derived from coal-fired power plants, not fireworks or  as implied by PACE.  According to a Birmingham watchdog group,

These old, outdated coal-fired power plants have been exempt from modern pollution controls due to a loophole in the Clean Air Act. Back in the 70s, driven by pressure from industry lobbyists, a “loophole” was created in the Clean Air Act by elected officials that benefited the coal and electricity industry greatly. Promising that they would soon be retired, many old coal-fired plants were exempt from requirements to install modern pollution controls, often referred to as the “grandfathered” plants.Data source: US EPA, 2008

Many power companies exploited this “grandfathered” status, kept their plants open, and increased their emissions significantly over the years.

While strides have been made we certainly need to continue our vigilance in being good stewards and insuring clean air and waters. As stated by Wendell Berry,

Sooner or later. governments will have to recognize that if the land [and air] does not prosper, nothing else can prosper for very long. We can have no industry or trade or wealth or security if we don’t uphold the health of the land [and air] and the people’s work. . .

It is commonly understood that governments are instituted to provide certain protections that citizens individually cannot provide for themselves. . . Our governments have only occasionally recognized the need of land [and air] and people to be protected against economic violence. It is true that economic violence is not always as swift, and it is rarely as bloody, as violence of war, but it can be devastating nonetheless. Acts of economic aggression can destroy a landscape or a community or the center of a town  or city, and they routinely do so. . . Because as individuals or even as communities we cannot protect ourselves against these aggressions, we need our state and national government to protect us.

It appears that we have fallen into the habit of compromising on issues that should not, and in fact cannot, be compromised.  I have and idea that a large number of us, including even a large number of politicians, believe that it is wrong to destroy the Earth [and air.] But we have powerful political opponents who insist that an Earth-destroying economy is justified by freedom and profit. And so we compromise by agreeing to permit the destruction only of parts of the Earth, or permit the Earth to be destroyed a little at a time — like the famous three-legged pig that was too well loved to be eaten all at once. [“and air” additions mine]

The high calling of businesses and private enterprise is stewardship which includes just care for the surrounding communities, people, land, water, and air. As we seek economic prosperity for Alabama, let us not so narrowly limit our vision and measure of judgment but rightly call on our elected officials to pursue the common good and demand public justice. Maybe we need to modify our State creed a little:

I believe in Alabama, a state dedicated to a faith in God and the enlightenment of mankind; to a democracy that safeguards the liberties of each citizen and to the conservation of her youth, her ideals, and her soil [and air].

In the political environment of today (see here and here), talk like this, unfortunately, will fairly quickly draw claims of treason within the Republican Party. Former Utah Governor and current Presidential candidate hearkens back to TR and is reported as saying:

We will be judged by how well we were stewards of those (natural) resources,” said Huntsman, a veteran of three Republican administrations who until this spring was President Barack Obama’s ambassador to China.

Conservation is conservative. I’m not ashamed to be a conservationist. I also believe that science should be driving our discussions on climate change,” he added.

I agree.

I think him wrong to link conservation with “climate change”, tactically and philosophically, though. A person might deny “climate change” but still wholeheartedly agree for the need for environmental protection on respect-for-neighbor or basic common-good reasoning. I think those which favor supervision of pollution and our commons err when they exclusively declare “climate change”  as the raison d’être for environmental protection.

On a side note: I find it interesting that, formerly, consideration and contemplation of environmental protection was not seen as some radical leftist policy: Pawlenty, Romney, and Gingrich have all supported previously environmental protectionist policies.

8000 square mile dead-zone in Gulf resulting from chemical run-off and poor supervision.

According to a article this weekend,

Alabama’s lax water protection laws leave the state’s rivers vulnerable to industrial pollution, sewage and muddy construction runoff, say several environmental groups pushing for updated water pollution rules more in keeping with those in other states. . .

The groups have drafted the Alabama Water Agenda, which promotes updates to water protection laws, increased water pollution inspections and tougher penalties for polluters.

“The key systemic problem in the state is the lack of a comprehensive water policy,” said Mitch Reid, program director for the Birmingham-based alliance. “We don’t have that one concrete law that says the rivers and waters of the state are part of the public trust and need to be protected for future generations.”

Reid said an important element in the new water agenda is a push to change the way Alabama approaches water regulation. Not enough attention is paid, he said, to how farmers and industries use both groundwater and surface water.

As evidence of adequate supervision,

One of the primary contentions in the petition was that the state was not providing ADEM with adequate funding to supervise the thousands of water pollution permits issued each year. . .

Alabama has not increased the budget for ADEM since the 1990s, and the responsibilities of the water division in ADEM have gone up exponentially,” Reid said. “The state is moving in the wrong direction.”

Any hope for better supervision of our water system went out the window November 2, 2010. As has been evidenced by the last six months, the Republican Party viscerally opposes any environmental protection.

For example, earlier this year in February, a major Republican presidential candidate called on Congress to dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency, calling it the “tool of ideologues.” In March, the House Republican’s budget proposal sought to slash the EPA’s budget by an unprecedented $30 billion—one third of the EPA’s budget, and the biggest cut to any other federal agency. In a recent CNN debate,Republican Presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) dubbed the EPA  the greatest threat to American jobs. GOP presidential campaign and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty promised  significant cuts to the federal environmental watchdog. Alabama Senator Richard Shelby co-sponsored legislation to eliminate the EPA.

And just last week, as reported here in the Miami Herald:

Republicans in the House of Representatives are waging an all-out war to block federal regulations that protect the environment.

They loaded up a pending 2012 spending bill with terms that would eliminate a broad array of environmental protections, everything from stopping new plants and animals from being placed on the endangered species list to ending federal limits on water pollution in Florida,

The terms also include a rollback of pollution regulations for mountaintop mining and a red light on federal plans to prevent new uranium mining claims near the Grand Canyon.

Another Republican-sponsored bill that’s before Congress would weaken the nation’s 1972 Clean Water Act, taking away the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to step in when it finds state water-pollution rules too loose.

Please note:

Republican doctrine wasn’t always so hostile to environmental protection. The Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act of the 1970s had strong support from both parties. Republican President Richard Nixon created the EPA and told Congress in 1973 that America’s “irreplaceable heritage” had to be protected, arguing that “the price of economic growth need not and will not be deterioration in the quality of our lives and our surroundings.”)

It is not that the public supports these current position, either:

According to Hueber, 67 percent of Americans reject Gringich’s demand to abolish the EPA. This includes 61 percent of Republicans. Sixty-three percent want the EPA to do more to protect air and water from polluters. Less than three in 10 Americans think it already does too much. And even fewer Americans, about 18 percent, want Congress to do what Republicans are threatening to do: block the EPA’s active role in updating pollution regulations.

“Americans prefer to protect the health of their families over allowing more pollution from corporations,” said Altman, climate campaign director for the NRDC, the organization that sponsored the survey.

“The bottom line is clear: Democrats, Republicans and Independents want politicians to protect the health of America’s children rather than the profit-driven agenda of big polluters,” he explained. “People get that the EPA is dedicated to protecting public health and want Congress to let the agency do its job.”

Alabama Republicans politicians have drank from the same stream of libertarian/corporatism. The movers and shakers in the Alabama Republican Party only see in civil government a danger of totalitarianism; however, they fail to see that same danger can arise when the government becomes an extension of private commercial corporations and interests. Their dogmatic philosophy has one standard by which most policies are judged: what is the impact on corporate profit margins.

This dogma disregards the older Christian principles and norms for civil government and business enterprises. Christian moral teaching has always judged business actions according to standards of stewardship. (In fact, the word “economy” is derived from the Greek word for “steward.” On the other hand, civil government is held to a different standard: public justice. When other institutions fail in their God-responsibilities, the civil government has been called upon direct them back when those acts deprive their neighbors and communities of the public honor and treatment due them.

Accordingly, when businesses fail to act as good stewards and consequently impact families and communities unjustly, the civil government is called to remedy that injustice and prescribe such immoral actions.

Economists call pollution an “externality.” It is a business “externalizing” a cost of their activities. Such externalizing occurs when, whether by haste or greed, it forces its costs on third parties not part of their activity or transaction; it is a form of theft and trespass. The obvious example is when a a company treats our waterways and air as a free dumping ground for the negative byproducts of their business activities. The community and its people pay for it though by devastated water systems, contaminated soil, and unbreathable air.

In addition to setting standards and limiting damage, ADEM merely police attempts to externalize costs and re-internalizes these costs by fines. This is not a radical idea. These public standards merely ensure businesses act in terms of care-taking, neighborliness, and peace as well as legitimate profit motives. (UPDATE: We very well may need to remove overly burdensome regulation that stifles economic growth. As evidenced by their all out assault on all environmental regulation, this is not the Republican’s desire. According to their ideology, ADEM and EPA are illegitimate period. They are opposed to even intelligent regulation that protects consumers and citizens.)

Christians have always seen that free markets must be based upon justice and operate within a moral framework. Adam Smith was a moral philosopher after all. What my Republican friends have forgotten is that if our land, soil, water, and air are not healthy and prosperous, then no economic growth in industry or trade or wealth will survive. There are no “rights” to plunder, waste, destroy, and corrupt our communities.

“But the care of the earth is our most ancient and most worthy, and after all, our most pleasing responsibility. To cherish what remains of it, and to foster its renewal, is our only legitimate hope” – Wendell Berry