September to December 2015

Post 63 in a series. When Green Turns Brown is an examination of a small town’s digester-energy project, in which Whitewater, Wisconsin would import other cities’ waste, claiming that the result would be both profitable and green.

On 9.17.15, Whitewater’s City Manager, Cameron Clapper, gave brief remarks in support of waste hauling into Whitewater. See, Text of the 9.17.15 Remarks on Waste Importation.

About three months later, on 12.15.15, the city’s Wastewater Superintendent, Tim Reel, spoke along similar lines. I’ve some of Reel’s remarks, and a transcript of them, immediately below.

September to December 2015 from John Adams on Vimeo.

“I’ll, I’ll start, jump in anywhere.  So, the, the, one of the misconceptions that we dealt with when we started talking about high-strength waste is that, uh, and I think everyone here heard it is that we were adding digesters, you know, and that, so again to make sure everyone is aware of that we are adding no capacity, you know, to our digesters, we’re not adding a digester at our location.  Um, what that high-strength waste facility or receiving, receiving station gives us is the ability to safely receive some materials which could be, um, food waste, perhaps a grease trap from a local business, um, it could be a, um, you know, we have already uh tried, for example, some spoiled salad dressing, that’s an example of something we’ve taken.  What we’re not taking about is hazardous waste, you know, coming in to the city of Whitewater, and going out there.”

There are two things to say about this for now.

First, like Clapper in September, Reel apparently thinks he’s making a strong case. He doesn’t show the slightest awareness that he might sound repetitive, and repetitive of absurdities.  He’s confident.

(Goodness knows how many times Reel and Clapper have repeated the false claim that there’s a misconception that ‘everyone here heard’ this project is about adding digesters. I debunked that straw man on 3.26.15, 264 days before Reel repeats it in December 2015.  See, The City of Whitewater Digester Clarification that Could Use a Clarification.

But he says it yet again on 12.15.15 as though he’s defending an eternal verity.  By the way,  he gets the capacity argument wrong in any event, for reasons that have to do with additional capacity that a second mixer permits.  A second digester has never been in contention, but expanding present capacity is.  Reel doesn’t seem to know the difference between a thing and its capacity.)

The bigger issue isn’t there, of course. It’s in Clapper’s contention on 9.17.15 and again on 12.15.15 ( at 27:50) that there’s nothing harmful in this, that in fact there cannot be anything harmful in this. Reel makes this distinction, too: that this isn’t about the hazardous, as they define it. I’ve yet to address Clapper’s point from 12.15, but it’s an on-camera claim that really stands in a class of its own.

That, of course, is a longer conversation for the months after the project begins.

But there’s a second issue, as important as the first. There’s a reason that some of these theories are repeated between 9.17.15 and 12.15.15: Clapper and Reel are operating in a closed circle where no one questions their claims, and so they assume they must be onto something true and right. That’s a problem, of course, but it’s one of an environment that has cosseted them and nurtured them to believe their own statements.

Over these months, I’ve come to see this project less like the Innovation Express bus (a wasteful policy) and more like a say-anything-to get-what-I-want scheme. That was the point, really, of a post from two weeks ago about Bill Ackman and his battle against Herbalife.  SeeAckman’s Right About Herbalife.

He’s convinced – rightly, I think – that Herbalife is wrong for deeper reasons than a choice between business options.

Believing this, Ackman sees that as they’re still going, he’ll keep going. But he also sees that the effort against Herbalife will not be won in Herbalife’s boardroom.

Instead, Ackman has gone outside, and is making his case there. He’s built his own website, and has videos describing Herbalife’s many false claims. I’m working on my own site, too.  (A lot still has to be done, but I like my format.) He has the patience to make his case over years.  Some conflicts are over a single event or moment; some take far longer.

I looked over some notes I had from June 2015, written on a glass board where (from that time) I tried to sketch how the months ahead might go. (It wasn’t a smart board, so I had to take a picture of my ideas.) At the time, I expected that this project would be approved by September 2015, and that I would complete questions on it by three months’ time afterward (December 2015). That would leave December 2015 to begin to submit public records requests to fill in gaps, and consideration for how records requests had been fulfilled by about March 2016 (that is, by about now, actually).

Well, I’m still in the asking questions, reviewing presentations phase. There hasn’t been much of my own work, along the lines of fiscal, economic, environmental, human health, and about a city’s political and business culture.

And yet, along the way, I have acquired a confidence like Ackman’s. His work against Herbalife is inspirational.  Months of posts (since my first on 3.26.15) only seem like a few days’ worth.

I’ll try to complete the question phase soon.