M y mother always told me I couldn’t save the world all at once. Having practiced primarily public-interest environmental law in Spokane for the last 11 years, I’ve come to realize she was right.
Eric Skelton’s recent resignation as the director of the Spokane County Air Pollution Control Authority (SCAPCA) hit me like a ton of particulates. While I have been busy fighting on behalf of clients for clean air, water and old-growth forests in North Idaho and Eastern Washington, I (and my clean-air advocate clients) have neglected to conduct oversight of clean air in our own back yard.
I feel obligated to try to justify my lack of diligence. You see, under Skelton’s leadership, we didn’t have much work to do, as SCAPCA was doing a stellar job of enforcing the goals of the state and federal Clean Air Acts. To take one example, under Skelton’s leadership, Spokane County was just recently taken off the non-attainment list for particulate matter, the critter that is responsible for increasing hospitalizations, use of medicine and even death for many in our community, especially those vulnerable to air pollution.
As I was protecting others’ back yards, my own came under attack. And now, I must worry about the future of air quality in Spokane, where I am raising my own family, as well as the hundreds of thousands of other residents who rely upon clean air to function and survive.
Apparently the SCAPCA board — including Spokane County Commissioners Phil Harris and Todd Mielke, along with Michelle Pope and Matthew Pedersen — believe they are sending a message to the community that Spokane County is not going to “interfere” with development. I guess these individuals just don’t get the most basic concept: If you don’t have clean air, no one will want to live in your community.
I must remind these board members that SCAPCA’s foremost obligation is to ensure compliance with the Washington state Clean Air Act and is incorporated in SCAPCA’s mission statement: “It is hereby declared to be the public policy of the Spokane County Air Pollution Control Authority to secure and maintain such levels of air quality that protect human health and safety, including the health and safety of the most sensitive members of the population.”
Several apologies are in order. First and foremost, I would like to apologize to Eric Skelton, who has worked so hard to improve air quality for the benefit of all of us in this region. Not only has Eric’s work gone unappreciated; in fact, he has been punished for cleaning up our air. I am embarrassed to be a part of a community who has treated someone like Skelton with such disdain. Most other communities in this country, instead of punishing and harassing, would view Skelton as a hero and thank him for all of the work he has done to improve their quality of life.
SCAPCA staff members have worked thanklessly for years, serving as the bearers of bad news when industry wanted to take a financial shortcut and save money, but conduct business in an environmentally risky manner. I’m sorry that I, and the thousands of clients I have advocated for in this region, took them for granted.
Last of all, to the children and elderly in this community, those significantly impacted by air quality but unable to speak for themselves, I am sorry to report that we live in a community where those in power choose development and making a quick buck over quality of life.
Our community has suffered a great blow by the loss of Eric Skelton. I urge the community to learn from this situation and make sure we do not allow history to repeat itself. Those of us who live, work, pay taxes and raise our family in this community must stand up and make our voices heard regarding our priorities. I, personally, don’t like living with regrets. I just wish that the SCAPCA board members were the ones resigning, instead of the man who has protected my back yard for the past 14 years.
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