INTERVIEWEE: Ken Zarker (KZ)
INTERVIEWER: David Todd (DT)
DATE: December 16, 2005
LOCATION: Austin, Texas
TRANSCRIBER: Jennifer Gumpertz and Robin Johnson
REELS: 2321, 2322, 2323
Numbers mark the time codes for the VHS tape copy of the interview. “Misc.” refers to background noise or off-camera conversation that is unrelated to the interview.
DT: It’s December 16, 2005. We’re in Austin, Texas. I’m here for the Conservation History Association of Texas, and we have the good fortune to be interviewing Ken Zarker, who has been an agency official, and at the many incarnations of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and its many predecessor agencies, and has been chiefly involved in pollution prevention, although his tasks were a lot broader than that. And maybe we’ll touch on some of those duties he’s had there in the next hour or so. And with that, I wanted to thank him for taking time to talk to us.
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KZ: Thank you. Looking forward to it.
DT: Well, Ken, I thought we might start by asking you, how you might have first gotten exposed to the outdoors or environmental issues.
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DT: Were there parents, mentors, relatives, friends that might have been involved?
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KZ: Sure. Well, I was born in Oakland, California, 1959, and so I grew up in the Bay Area, which is a beautiful natural setting. And if you remember back, some of the old Ansel Adams photographs of—of San Francisco before the bridge and everything. So it just has a lot of natural beauty and I think that probably had a—a profound impact on me. And I just have always felt that I’ve wanted to work on environmental issues since I was a little kid. And we grew up in a—in Orinda, California. And it was great because we had
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a ho—the—our house there, a little creek next to it, there were salamanders, running water great curiosity for a small growing child. And then we also had access to some of the hills behind our house, and we would be able to go up there and hike, and build forts in the grass. And—and so we did a lot of camping up in the Sierras, which were right in our backyard. And so I’ve just always had this affinity to the outdoors and knew that I wanted to work in environmental area issues, and—and programs. And didn’t quite, you know, in—know exactly what I wanted to do, and—and I started out at UT here in
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Austin, and the only program I could find over there at the time was Environmental Engineering. So I enrolled in that, got through that program in about three years and decided I really didn’t want to design wastewater treatment plants for the rest of my life, but ended up finishing my degree at the University of Houston at Clear Lake and got a Bachelor’s of Science in Environmental Management, which was more my mix of environmental and policy related things. And—and so it’s been interesting, and I have found my way back to Austin after that because I’ve—I really enjoy the
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natural environment of Austin. It reminds me a lot of the—of the—California to a certain degree, with the water and the hills and the—and the diversity of—of the town and everything. So, you know, that was kind of my beginnings I think of being interested. And I was a—a Boy Scout, went through that. My dad was a—a s—scout leader in—in Houston. All three of—I have two other brothers, Larry and Doug, and they’re—we’re all Eagle Scouts. And so we got of a lot of exposure to outdoors and backpacking and hiking and—and that’s something I still enjoy to do till—till today.
DT: Do you have any experiences you can remember from your days in the Oakland area, or camping in the Houston area when you were growing up?
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KZ: Sure. Well, growing up in California we had a tent trailer. This was probably 1967-‘68 timeframe. And I remember going up into the Yosemite National Park in the campgrounds up there. And even back then it was crowded and pretty much kind of a crazy atmosphere. And there were bears in the—in the campgrounds. And another thing I very distinctly remember about Yosemite was the—a big attraction at the time was to go see the Fire Falls, which you think now it’s just a horrific thing what they were doing, but it was fantastic. What they would do is take a—a log and have it all been burning all day or whatever, and they would then push it off the—I don’t know if it’s El Capitan or what, but it was a large granite fall. And so it—they did this at night so you’d see this big waterfall of—of fire—fire coming down the mountain, which was fantastic when you
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see it, but, you know, you think back now, it’s like—even now I get—I was maybe questioning, like, why are we pushing the log off the side of the mountain, you know? But I, you know, we—we had this tent trailer and we would go out camping all over the, you know, Sierras, and—and fantastic opportunity. And then I think I realized in later years that, you know, it was probably for my parents just a really good cheap way to do a vacation, you know, for the kids. But we really enjoyed the—the times together up there. And I also had cousins about the same age. My—my mom’s brother lived in the same
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town so we had a kind of built-in family. We—we did a lot of those activities together, and have fond memories of—of things. But I did very distinctly remember Yosemite. I mean you can’t, you know, get that out of your mind once you’ve been there and seen the—the natural beauty up there. But it was quite an experience growing up being exposed to that. And—and in the Houston area it was rather a—a somewhat of a shock, moving there. My dad worked for the oil business—Shell Oil. And they relocated all the headquarters down there in 1970. But we got started and there, and we did some hiking. I
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had access to the Buffalo Bayou. We lived close to the headwaters there up at Addicks Dam area. Did a lot of hiking up in the Bear Creek area although I do distinctly remember one time getting ready to go to Philmont, which is a Boy Scout camp up in New Mexico, and training, and so we put our fifty pound packs on in Houston in—in July, and hiked, you know, from our house out to Bear Creek, and I think we nearly passed out, you know, several times because of the heat and everything. And so the—
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although the hiking was a much—somewhat limited in the Houston area, there were some natural aspects that we were able to get to as kids., you know, you could get on your bike and ride down to the Bayou, and there’s a lot of good trails down there. And the interesting thing is that whole system there drains to downtown, and then into to the Galveston Bay area, and so it was kind of neat to think about it, you know, the whole, you know, beginnings of the—thinking about the ecosystems and how things work. So, you know, making the connection between these natural areas and—and how things kind
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of fit together it was something I think I was aware of at a—at a pretty early age, that there was a connection here between our impacts, you know, as living there and—and—and the natural environment, and—and having a respect for the—the outdoors, and enjoying that. And having—that was a kind of a strong need to be—for me to be able to get out and—and enjoy the—the—the natural environment. So…
DT: You told us a little bit about your childhood, and education. Can you tell us how you ended up back in Austin with your first job, which I guess was with the Department of Health, is that right?
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KZ: That’s correct, Department of Health, Bureau of Solid Waste Management. Well, at the time, as you remember, I had started environmental engineering and then—and then went and finished my degree at University of Houston at Clear Lake. And I think it was in the last semester or something I did a paper on solid waste, you know. And who would have ever thought, you know, here I would have a career in solid waste, you know. But I did a paper on that, and then secured an internship back here in Austin with the Texas Department of Health, Bureau of Solid Waste Management. And at the time, they had the—the solid waste program at the Texas Department of Health, and I think the
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industrial stuff was over at the Texas Department of Water Resources. And so it was an interesting environment to come into. The way that the Bureau of Solid Waste Management was set up was that there was a—a director of the Bureau, Jack Carmichael, who was a distinguished colonel, retired. But the way had—they had set everything up over there was where they had the—b—the—Ch—Carmichael at the top, and then he had his bureau chiefs wor—which were all Lieutenant Colonels. So it was set—very set up very much like a military kind of operation, which was some—somewhat typical back
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there. I think a lot of retired military went into state government. Or maybe they had a background of working in the—with the Army Corps of Engineers. One of the longtime employees over there is Hector Mendieta, who just retired for maybe the second or third time from the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality, but he just left the agency last year at—I think he’s probably in his early 80’s now. But—but it’s interesting to think about that. But, so here it was, all these kind of military guys running the Solid Waste Department, and here I’m a young intern, just come in. I don’t know exactly how I got
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into the—but I got an opportunity to come in there and serve as an intern. And that was in 1982. And at the time I believe the—the RECRA—the Hazardous Waste Program was just coming into being. And so there were a couple of things there. There was a—a computer in the corner, and nobody knew how to operate it. So they said you’re a young guy, you go figure out how to make this thing work. And we began to put some information in there about registering some hazardous waste sites and things like that. So they had the program split into the Municipal Hazardous Waste Program, and then the
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Industrial Hazardous Waste Programs over at this other agency. And so we worked on those things. I worked on municipal solid waste issues. At the—at the time, one of the Vanguard programs were—was resource recovery which was sort—the waste energy program where we—we would—the idea of taking your trash and burning to produce electricity.
DT: Did you work on the home (?) incinerator at all?
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KZ: I don’t believe I worked on that one, and I don’t…
DT: In Houston?
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KZ: …remember a lot of the details. They were beginning to permit some of these waste energy plants, although they were slow-going in terms of getting authorized because maybe the economics, there were some technical issues. Apparently these things, when you burn the trash, generates a lot of chemical releases that would actually rust out the equipment. So they had a lot of problems with that. And I think the fact that it—because Texas has such a pretty large space that, you know, landfill disposal costs were pretty cheap. So maybe it—it was hard for these incinerators really to compete against landfills. So it—it was an interesting start. And…
DT: Can you recall some of the other…
[Time code starts over]
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KZ: …it’s more efficient with bigger programs, and it made, you know, it’s a, you know, and then maybe you get more consistency across—it—across the country, you know, of having standardized programs with the—the—the mom and pops. But then it—there’s—it’s been interesting because if you contrast their operations with someone like Bob Gregory down at Texas Disposal Systems, he—his operations are—tend to be cleaner, better operating than some of these other larger operators. So there can be a danger of maybe getting too big and—versus, you know…
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KZ: So it—it might be worthwhile. I think the—the trend—the trend now is probably the issue related of—to privatization.
DT: Ken, you’re involved in the Regulation of Municipal Solid Waste when you were working at TDH. Can you talk a little bit about what was going on in the business of Municipal Solid Waste Management? It seems like there was consolidation going on on one hand. There was the outsourcing from all of these (?) that formerly had managed municipal waste, trash collection, and so on. Any sort of aspects that relate to environmental concerns there?
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KZ: Well you’re right. In—in the early ‘80s there was a very concerted effort. At the time there were a lot of independently owned landfills either run by cities or mom and pops and some larger entities out there as well. And I think really you could capitalize the ‘80s as a—a period of consolidation. And then there were also regulations that were coming in that were requiring liners in landfills, and a lot of cities that probably got, you know, did the economic analysis and looked like it was just going to be too
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expensive to upgrade, and so they either tended to close their sites. So there was a larger universe out there. At the same time you saw the large waste management companies coming forward and buying up smaller operators and creating a real business opportunity in—in solid waste. Up to that time there had been probably, you know, more diverse and smaller operators. And so we’ve had the—now what we have are very large operating companies. And I think the trend is continuing to consolidate. Local governments have
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tended to move toward more contractual op—operations and less specific, running their own landfills, for example. And I think a lot of that’s due to pressures on local government to reduce costs. And so it’s kind of a good—good thing-bad thing because—I think the cities can be generally more responsible if—if they’re running an operation and they’re really held accountable to that the citizens can probably put more pressure on—on the—on the local government to change or make corrections. And that’s maybe more difficult for citizens to do that through the city contract process. They can have
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impact, but those decisions now are made—being made by county commissioners and—and city councils as they outsource things. So I think that trend will probably continue although the end—industry’s fairly consolidated up to this point. Most of the big operations are—are—are really taking—taking a landscape and—and have very large landfills, and now we’re going to—to larger—you know, we’re starting to—to grow our landfills because of space restrictions, and—and starting to see some impacts from land use and things like that.
DT: Can you explain what you mean by that?
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KZ: Well, the trend now is because it’s very difficult to site any new facilities in—in Texas, or do expansion, we’re now going to vertical expansions of landfills. So you—you know, you hear of things like Mt. Trashmore, and there’s a—there’s a site down in San Antonio I believe, and in Houston that are—are now becoming the high-points in the city in terms of elevation. But that seems to be the trend that folks are—are moving towards because of impacts, citizen opposition to citing new—new lot—locations. So it’s a—a—a
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problem, how to manage these properly. We had began to, you know, thinking about waste diversion in the—in the late ‘80s to extend the life of our landfills. And so there’s been this kind of a—a conflict between cheap available land versus, okay, a long-term solution of better managing these wastes. There’s a lot of organics and materials that can be pulled out of the waste stream for reuse or producing things like organic compost, pulling the yard waste out of—out of that stream. So there’s been some reductions by
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putting those kinds of programs in place. But at the same time, Texas has continued to grow. It’s a very populous state. We’re going to double our population in the next twenty-five years or so. So there’s going to be continued demands on capacity, and we’re going to have to keep an eye on that and find a balance between diversion and—and—and available space.
DT: Something else I’ve been interested in with these landfills is the possibility of pulling energy out of them through methane collection. Did you get involved at all in that? Can you tell us anything about that?
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KZ: Yes. Well, as, you know, most landfills are—are nat—methane producers, which is also a greenhouse gas. And so there was legislation I think passed a couple of sessions ago to help stimulate the recovery of the methane from landfills, and so now Texas is beginning to put those systems in place. In the past, the meth—the gas would just kind of off-gas to the environment. So because of deregulation in Texas these landfill operators are able to capture that material and then process it and then sell it on the grid as electricity. Or use it there on site to—to run, say, a heater or something like that. But one
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of the things to think about I think now with these landfills is to think about them as a resource. It used to be that people would just say we’re just going to take our stuff to the dump. That—you know, and the mindset was it’s the dumping ground. But if you start thinking about it, it should be it’s—it’s a—it’s really a community asset when you think about it. And what I mean by that, because you have all these material that are—that are coming into a centralized location, and so we maybe—need to think—start thinking about our landfills as—as mmm—as resources, where you can be producing a compost material from yard waste, you could be recovering metals from your white goods, and processing those or glass, or recyclables. And—and I think maybe the community might
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start thinking about these as assets within their community, and—and perhaps there would be less opposition ultimately if the community knew that—that we were recovering materials, producing goods, creating jobs, and if the operators now also kind of stepped up to the plate to make sure that the operations were run cleanly, that there was no litter or trash, truck traffic is dealt with in a—in a responsible way, in terms of just basic things like, you know, operating during regular hours when, you know,
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when—when you’re coming come you don’t want truck coming down your street, that kind of thing. So there are some examples of those type of—types of operations. Right here in Austin, Texas Disposal Systems runs I think what you call state of the art facility. And they’ve created buffers around their facility, they have a Natural Resource Education Center there. The—they just run a really good operation. I think that’s a—a good model for a lot of operators to look at in terms of—of the resource. So I think that if we can
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work with the—with citi—community people to make the connection between putting my blue bin recycling container out there on the corner, to how that material is being used and recovered and, you know, we are producing products from that—recycled aluminum plastics, and—and glass. So we’re just at the beginning I think of that whole process of thinking about—in—instead of thinking about it as—as waste, let’s think about it as materials, because it is—they’re basically materials and they’ve just been transformed into—to products that we use, and then we have this mindset of just getting rid of it. But if you start thinking about recovering those materials, keeping them in
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commerce over time, that it makes sense. And the perfect example of that is aluminum because once you’ve extracted the metals from the environment, if you can keep them in commerce, it’s a lot cheaper, more efficient than to go out and extract, you know, more aluminum from mining. So these are valuable commodities, and once you have them in commerce, you know, let’s try to keep these in—in—in—in commerce as long as we can before you have to ultimately dispose of them.
DT: Good point. You sort of talked about the end of some of these materials we regard as trash at the landfills. I’m curious if you can also talk about these blue bins, and the fact that here in Austin we have Pay-As-You-Throw. Has that been something that the state has been involved in promoting?
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KZ: Yes. The Pay-As-You-Throw Program, and basically what that does is it creates an incentive for the households to reduce the amount of solid waste that they generate, so that basically the cities or—will charge based on the size of container that you have. And when I first got into managing our pollution prevention in industry systems section, I realized that the Pay-As-You-Throw Program was a really great incentive for—for local governments. At the time I think there were six to seven or so cities in Texas using the Pay-As-You-Throw model, and one of the biggest cities that just came online about a year or two ago is the city of Fort Worth. So you have now a major city doing that type of program. And I think it works fairly well. The only criticism I guess I would have is I
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think that sometimes there’s not enough differential between the smaller containers and the huge ones. I mean it’s like a buck or two. So it really doesn’t hurt in the pocketbook for consumers to just pay a couple extra bucks for the large ones and not—not think about it. So I think that sometimes, you know, maybe the program could be thought about. But it is a g—it is—it—it—it is a good step in that direction to help the—get people to think about reducing the amount. But I think that economic differentiation
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there right now is—is not enough to really make a—a choice between, you know, I’m going to do this or not. It—but for example, we’re a family of four, and we’re able to, you know, reduce our—our consumption in pr—producing waste so that we can use the smallest little green container, and we seem to do that fairly well with a family of four. Occasionally we may have to put an extra bag out, but the city has this program where you can buy a sticker and—and they’ll pick that up. So I think it’s a good program and
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we should, you know, promote that kind of thinking and—because I think consumers, when they realize they have choices, and then there’s an economic impact to associate with that, then whether it’s energy or—or gasoline, people start to realize, make the connection between their pocketbook and their lifestyle. So it’s a—it’s a good thing.
DT: I guess your first chapter in your career—’82 to ‘87—had to do with these landfills, and how to deal with trash, and useful waste. From ‘87 into ‘90 it looks like you started working in more hazardous kinds of waste. And one thing that I found intriguing was that you dealt with the EPA and this whole delegation of what had originally been a federal program that was later conferred on the State. And I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about the tension and the cooperation I guess there must have been between the EPA and the State in trying to move forward on a hazardous waste program.
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KZ: Yes I mean that’s an interesting period of time. All of the—you know, EPA was set up in 1970, I guess, and so by the time I kind of arrived on the scene the—and particularly in their hazardous waste program began to put the programs in place, and the EPA began to delegate these programs to the states, if the states could demonstrate competence in managing these programs. And so I guess we started that probably in the mid ‘80s. And of course there was a lot of tension between the sort of state and federal relationship saying, well, do we really trust the State to put in an effective program. And
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of course, you have to think from the EPA standpoint, you know, they’re trying to deal with fifty states, and having a very diverse set of players out there. Texas had been in pretty good shape because we had had an industrial waste management program prior to 1970, so there were some programs in place already in Texas. And we had been managing industrial waste to—to a large degree before the RCRA Hazardous Waste Program came on. In the early days of the RCRA Program, it was a lot about defining the universe of generators and treatment storage and disposal facilities. So I remember one of the early things I did probably in the 1995-‘97 timeframe was to go through a lot
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of what we call the “Part ‘A’ RCRA Applications.” There was a—an effort to pull in all the facilities in Texas and then begin to permit them. And so we spent a lot of time looking at that, and then beginning to argue with EPA about whether this is a TSD—Treatment Storage or Disposal facility or not. And defining that what is the universe? We had no clue in, say ‘85, exactly what is the universe of generators out there, and how many storage facilities do we have, and what other nightmare scenarios are we going to
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run into because there were a lot of illegal disposal sites out there that then became the Superfund Program and things like that. And so that tension was there I think—I don’t remember the exact date when the RCRA Program was delegated to the State, but I think it was relatively early compared to say if you look at the Water Program in Texas which was just delegated maybe three or four years ago, 1999 or something like that. But the—because of—maybe because Texas had a—a experience with the waste management side, and there was a higher confidence level in—in EPA to do that. But the
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tension has continued over the years though, in—in—for example, in the air program when, for example, when Commissioner Marquez came on the scene with EPA it was very combative. And EPA and the states weren’t really seen as working together very effectively. And so we were continually to butt heads on things. And so there was a lot of effort to then bring those two groups together. At the time I think Greg Cook was the administrator in Region 6, and really kind of look at, you know, beginning this idea of more of a partnering relationship between the agencies, because if you think about it,
you know, we’re both in the business of environment, and we all have—we both have the same goal, but what we were arguing about was how to get there. And so, you know, I—I think that, you know, we’ve worked that out so that there’s a better relationship among the various groups. The other thing that is also tied to this is—is federal grant money, and so EPA provides probably about thirty million in grants to the state of Texas to run the air, water, and waste programs. The RCRA Hazardous Waste Program is about thirteen
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million in Texas today. And so they want to know what they’re going to get, you know, for their taxpayer money, and how—how the state’s going to effectively manage it. So I think it’s at the point now where it’s a good working relationship from—from where we were when we first started off. A lot of these people have been together for almost twelve—thirteen years now. So we may have argued and—and things at the beginning about a lot of issues, but I think we’ve worked those out over the years. And I think the—the fact that we had, you know, an environmental community in Texas that was
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monitoring a lot of this, as well as the—the business community keeping an eye on how the State and the EPA were working, that—that helped, you know, improve the program over—over time, just by having all that input into the process. But I don’t remember any knock-down, drag-out fist fights over things in the—in the hazardous waste program. You know, we have a lot of—some differences, but by and large, you know, it’s—it’s sort of evolved over time, and—and now we’re a very respected program. I think we’re considered one of the leading programs in the country.
DT: Moving on a little bit from the hazardous waste work that you did at the Work Mission. Later, I understand in 1990 to ‘92 you helped created the Recycle Texas database. And I thought you might be able to talk a little bit about successes and failures in recycling, and maybe some of the difficulties of dealing with such a cyclical market…
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KZ: That’s true.
DT: …(?) those secondhand goods.
DT: You know, we skipped on the sludge applications.
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KZ: Sludge. We can go back to sludge—before we go into waste man.
DT: (Inaudible.) But maybe deal with a little bit with recycling and return of (?).
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KZ: And sludge has sort of been there. But go ahead.
DT: We were talking before we broke about the Recycle Texas database, and some of the efforts that you put into to getting recycling going in Texas. I was hoping you could elaborate.
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KZ: Sure. I’d like to. Well, in 1989, we formed the—what we called the Waste Minimization Unit. And at the time I was put into that unit and I wasn’t exactly overjoyed with this career change. I thought, you know, at the time I thought, oh, my gosh, what have I been put into, you know, this is like career of death, you know. But it’s turned out to be the best thing that’s ever happened in terms of getting to think—starting to think about more sustainability and things like that. So in ‘89 we formed the Waste Minimization Unit, and one of the first things we put together was a database of
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recyclers—industrial su—recyclers in Texas, and we called it Recycle Texas. And it still exists today. It’s now online. And the idea was to be able to hook up folks that were generating materials with people taking materials and—and—and create more awareness about that. And so we set that up. And from there we went and established a materials exchange program that is basically is kind of a dating service for waste, so that, you know, particularly in industrial processes, you may have some kind of a material that comes out of one unit that can go into a production unit there, so we’ve been promoting
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that sort of industrial ecology kind of thing. At the same time there was a lot of con—increased consumer awareness about recycling, and so you saw in the early ‘90s this sort of rebirth of interest in the environment. I think, you know, of course 1970 with Earth Day really was the really eye opening experience for—for everyone. And again, in 199—‘90, I think there was a kind of resurgence of that which brought forward the—the blue bins and the recycling programs that we have today that people began to think about
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more about recovery of materials. And so we’ve set up programs. I think Texas now has about a forty percent recycling rate overall. Now that number can be a little bit—if you look at—look at that number you can be a little suspect, let’s say, okay, because we’ve included things like we were recycling rebar from s—from highway construction projects. And so it’s legitimate recovery, but in terms of consumers recycling, that’s been a challenge because it is a behavior change to get people to think about, oh, I’ve got to take this and put it in this container, and then I’ve got to take this container out to the
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corner and it’s like what a hassle, why do I have to do this. So you had a lot of that. But at the same time a lot of consumers were saying I want to do something for in the environment. And so it’s a very easy thing that folks could do, and we got them to thinking about recycling. And the markets have gone up and down over the—over time, and it’s been—it’s a commodity market just like anything. And so the price of paper goes up and down, price of steel goes up and down, price of glass. And those have definitely impacted programs over time. I think at one point even, most recently the city of New
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York decided that they were just going to get rid of their recycling program. That’s a huge market I think, at least for glass because the economics just didn’t work out in glass. But paper and steel have continued to—to be strong in the markets. We used to track the commodity rates and provide those to the public and the industry so that they could track those themselves. That was a service we provided. Texas put—the state of Texas put a lot of resources into recycling in the early ‘90s where we promoted both recycling and composting programs. And we had actually a section at the Texas Water Commission
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made up of about forty folks just focused on recycling at that time. Today at the agency we have probably equivalent of about two people now working on recycling. And I think that was because of the—a lot of downward pressure on state government could—beginning in the mid ‘90s for one thing just to reduce the number of this big government type thing, you know, pressure to—to hold the—hold the line on spending. But also we’ve established these recycling programs that have been taken over by local governments, and so we have a lot of really, you know, good programs out there now. So
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there’s probably a less need to have that many people on the ground today than there was in the early days to get started. But we have some of the pioneers of—of the recycling programs that started here in Texas. Beth Brown who started the Ecology Action was one of the originals but she also worked with a couple colleagues Woody Rein and Alan Watts, and they both worked at the Texas Water Commission and predecessor agencies, and helped set those programs up for the state of Texas. And Alan continues to work
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there in that, and Woody’s still involved in state government. But we have some real champions in Texas that help set these programs up. Today I think there’s—the consumers have become a little bit less inclined about recycling. You’ve seen recycling rates dropping off. You start to look at the things like the whole system in terms of collection. You’re sending out separate trucks. So people are starting to question, well, okay, how much air emissions are we getting from our trucks to go pick up the
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recyclables, and so we’re starting to think more of the whole lifecycle of these things. But I think at the end of the day it—it continues to make sense and—and—and continue to build on our recycling programs for the future because we need to be recovering those materials over the long haul, particularly as the state continues to grow in population, and—and that—it’s sort of this chicken and egg thing because if you can get the mac—commodity amount of material being pulled out to a certain level that then—and then
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industry is there to support that and build on that. A perfect example of that is in the composting arena, so I’ll switch gears a little bit and talk about composting. We—back in the same timeframe, early ‘90s, there was an emphasis on promoting more composting programs, including the home-based composting as well as industrial large scale composting, as (?) the—the pull the organics out of the waste stream. And so we’ve set up around the state a number of really excellent composting programs. One of the interesting things that we worked on was creating a market for these materials. And that was one other thing. A number of states went out and banned all yard waste from
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landfills in other states. That created a—kind of a problem because all of a sudden we get—began to accumulate this stuff and there was no market—end-market for it, similar to what happened sort of in the tire program, that’s another story. But in compost what Texas did is we didn’t necessarily create a—a ban. What we began to do was develop—try to develop a market, so we created an industry. And so one really unique example is up in the Bosque Watershed. And this is how things—environmental programs are
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connected and how you can solve one problem in one area. For example, up in the Bosque Watershed, as, you know, there is a lot of concentrated animal feeding operations, and that manure creates the runoff that’s going into the creeks, creating a lot of water quality problems. So what we did is we went in, and—cow manure makes a great compost. And so we began to work with some composters up in that watershed and created a product. And then we worked with the TxDOT—Texas Department of Transportation—to purchase that material that they could then use on the roadsides for re-vegetation and to help keep the Blue Bonnets colorful in Texas. And so that’s what an
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example of where the state kind of stepped in and took a leadership role to help create a market that has now spawned an industry. There were some incentives early on to help incentivize that pro—program. For example, we—there was a rebate for the transportation of that compost out of that watershed to other parts of the state, and so the—the transporters got a rebate on that to incentivize the program and—and to help create that market. But that’s an example where now that market can pretty much stand
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up on its own. The business is thriving, and TxDOT is now the largest consumer of compost in the country. And they use a lot of it in—in roadside vegetation. When you think about it, Texas has grown, and we’re building a lot of highways, and they’re going to need that material to re-vegetate. And also cre—solve the—it’s helping to solve another problem in the Bosque by pulling that material out when it was a pollutant and creating a—a market end-use for it. And so it’s—it’s a good program. And that’s a
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success story where you—you—you kind of in—use the market to incentivize and create an industry. And Texas is pretty good about, you know, people coming forward and trying to create businesses and finding opportunities there. But I think that also really helped that the state, you know, provided leadership role in—in helping get that started. I don’t think it would have probably happened without the government helping lead by example. And I think that’s an important thing about state government that we sometimes
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forget about is that, you know, government should be in a leadership role to help solve these problems, but then, you know, I—I’ve—I—I think there needs to be a strong foundation there before you, you know, let the market system step in. But…
DT: Well, it’s interesting you talk about composting manure. I think your career started out about a decade before dealing with sludge application on land. I was wondering if you could talk about some of the concerns that were raised about that method of (?).
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KZ: Yeah, you talk about the contentious issue, let’s talk about landfills, or let’s talk about sludge application, okay? Nothing gets people more riled up than—than sludge, or—or solid waste. But yeah, I—I started out working in that—that s—that—that industry sector. One of my—I guess you could say, one of my legacy things that—it’s kind of funny, though, now, but probably in the mid ‘80s we were working on these sludge haulers, and they weren’t regulated. They were out there providing the service, but
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we were getting complaints that a lot of this stuff was ef—ending up in the rivers, you know, that you go pick up this stuff and then just dump it in the creek and things like that. So I was told to set up some kind of a registration system to register these sludge haulers. And so I did that. That was one of—one of my first things. So now you see a little number on the side of a truck, and, you know, I helped set that up. So there you go. But it was interesting because we kept hearing—I became more knowledgeable about the issue, particularly in the Houston area. As Houston continued to grow they were—didn’t
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have any really large opt—a lot of options for their sludge disposal, and so you began to see a lot of application happening in—in west Harris County and moving up into, I guess, Columbus and areas, there are some large land application sites. And so there was a lot of question about the ability for the land to absorb the material in—industrial metals in this stuff, you know, what—what kind of crops can you put on here. A lot of questions, and—and of course the public has this, you know concern about, you know, putting waste on
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land. And it’s because of odor, you know, pathenogens and things like that. And it’s now become a very controversial issue around the country. People trying to relate maybe health impacts to these—the application. Although I attended a conference recently and there’s been a lot of studies; EPA has done a lot of scientific research, the National Academy of Sciences, that have not found any direct impacts on say, airborne pathenogens, or other material coming from these sludge sites on—on neighborhoods. So there’s this raging debate about whether these sites are really impacting public health
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or not. And so it’s going to be interesting to see how that all plays out. But what you’re seeing now in particularly urbanized areas as the sprawl becin—continues to go, these sites used to be out in the country, and now you have communities being built around them, there’s a lot more pressures on them, so you’re going to see these—these sites moving farther out in the country, so now we’ll be, you know, trucking this material even farther away. And you’ve really seen it happen in—in California, and up and down the East Coast. And they’re also looking at the phosphorous loading rates in these materials as—as a concern, and so you’re going to start seeing a lot of phosphorous bans come into
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the regulations, which is going to have an impact. What do we do with this material. And there are things like producing DilloDirt, and again compostable materials. And think about reuse of that material again. The public seems to be really, you know, they’re okay with cattle manure, and creating compost out of that, but there’s something about human waste that folks get really squeamish about, although it’s a lot—it’s—this—
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basically the same type of material. So there’s a mindset really against this whole human waste—how do we manage our human waste and treatment, and—but there’s a lot of byproducts, you know, from wastewater treatment plants that we’re going to have to deal with in terms of the sludge and—and how we utilize it. Now that’s why it’s important that we have really good strong pollution prevention programs in the cities to prevent, you know, industrial chemicals and pollutants going into our wastewater treatment plants
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which ult—ultimately end up in this sludge. So, again, you know, thinking more holistically about these systems, and educating consumers and businesses, saying, you know, by dumping this stuff down, or a—a growing problem in the sludge world is pharmaceuticals’ waste getting into the waste stream. If you think about it, a lot of people dispose of their old medicines and pills and things, they just dump them down the toilet. All that stuff ends up in the sludge. So you may have some concerns about that. So that’s an emerging issue. Pharmaceutical pollutants that are coming out of either homes
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or hospitals, and how do we deal with these new waste streams. And a lot of them are s—pretty serious kinds of chemicals, and things like endocrine res—disruptors, and—which are being tied to—you’re seeing the feminization of things like aquatic species and sperm count drops in aquatics, and—and other populations. And you compound that now with the U.S. becoming a growing older population as the baby boomers begin to move in then. And I know my parents—my—my folks are in their 80’s now, and it seems like they’re taking all kinds of drugs everyday. Well, a lot of those materials are—are
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going into our treatment systems and so we’re going to have to think about the impacts of more drugs ending up in—in waste treatment systems and how we can deal with that. So that’s kind of an interesting, you know, going from where we didn’t regulate this material at all to thinking about, okay, how are we going to deal with stuff in the future. And it’s going to be a continued problem out there. But I think we’re going to have to come up with some creative solutions to manage it. And in a way, you know, you can
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create—maybe create some jobs around that which will impact—it—it’s a necessary part of our economy. And—but I think we do need to be mindful about public health, and these sites, and how they’re managed, and where they’re located. And that creates a problem for the regulators, of course, kind of being in the middle between industry running these sites, and—and the public, and finding that balance. And that’s been an interesting place to be as a—as a state official finding your—yourself sort of on—on dealing with both extremes, and I’ve found that interesting. That’s been (?) a unique part of working in state government, I think.
DT: Let’s hold off on that, because I think that’s a very complex and interesting issue.
[End of Reel 2321]
DT: Okay. Ken, let’s talk about work that you’re doing in the mid ‘90s. ‘92 to ‘98. I think that you were at TNRCC, Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission, and you were working on the Toxic Release Inventory. I was wondering if you could tell us what that was, and what your role, as part of that, was.
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KZ: Well, in 1991, there—I guess a couple of pieces of legislation passed in Texas. The Waste Reduction Policy Act of 1991, and then we had the Texas Toxics Release Inventory, or Texas Toxics Reduction Program. And that was a trend in the early ‘90s around the country. We had a number of states; it’s about twenty-three states now that put in pollution prevention planning laws. And so I’ll talk a little bit about that. But on the Toxics Release Inventory Program, that was a—a national program, the EPA, it came out in the early ‘90s and basically required industry to report the types of emissions and
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releases for certain chemicals. And it was really a unique program in that it—there was no regulatory mandates to reduce these material—chemicals. They basically just said let’s just see how much you’re producing, and it was a—a really beginning of this community right-to-know program. And Texas picked that up as well. And our program mirrors the—the National TRI Program. And so it requires companies in Texas to report on their toxic chemicals and releases. And so that began—I think—actually, the first one was in 1987, so the—the—the TRI Program may have preceded the—the pollution prevention legislation by a few years if I—if I could—I’m thinking correctly. It had a lot of impact initially because of, all of a sudden these companies’ names were ending up on
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a list of the top ten, you know, polluter list. And so CEO’s got really engaged about this and saying, you know, we don’t want our company to be, you know, on this list, and it generated a lot of thinking about how to manage and—these chemicals and get them off the—get them off the list. So without any, you know, really mandates on, you know, thou shall reduce these chemicals, or we’re going to permit your facility for these releases, it was a very—it was a brilliant way to put this out there and then to have this community right-to-know aspect where the public had access to this—this information. And I guess
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beginning—the web was—Internet was just beginning, you know, probably in 1990’s, ‘92, I remember I got my first e-mail account in like ‘92 so it was just the beginning of that. So there was this big birth of access and right-to-know, and—and a lot of environmental organizations helped promote that. And Texas sat up the program and began to collect the information from the companies. It also served as a funding source. I think there was a, and there still is today, fifty dollars a chemical up to a cap. I think it’s only two hundred and fifty dollars cap on that—the—the fee. So it is a—a—a—a
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required mandate by the state of Texas, and a source of funding. And it hasn’t really been looked at, you know, recently in terms of, you know, future use of that—that legislation as a tool to, you know, continue to drive reductions because I think what we found is that we’ve had a lot of initial activity in things of beginning to taper off in terms of amounts of significant reductions. We—we called it “low hanging fruit.” There was a lot of low hanging fruit in the early ‘90s and people really focused on—on reductions, and we’ve
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had significant reduction in those chemicals. You know, thirty to forty percent reductions over time.
DT: What were some of the low hanging fruit?
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KZ: A lot of it has to do with s-very simple things. In—in the industry side, looking at production processes, things like solvent use and painting. Painting and coatings. You see we’ve gone to now what we call powder coating, which is a new technology. It’s an improvement from the use of those old solvent-based systems. In the chemical and refining industry you saw a lot of emphasis on reducing the amount of chemical by-products that were considered waste, which would then they would, you know, tend to deep-well inject. A lot of them have deep-wells on site and they would just, you know,
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deep-well them. And it was very convenient, you know, but because of the TRI Program those types of releases were counted, and so companies were, you know, put in a spotlight. And so the industry also began to look at reuse of—of certain kinds of by-products, and so that tended to get folks to think about where the—the waste could be reduced in their production processes. So a lot of focus on production processes and looking for chemical s—you know, substitutes, less toxics, materials that you could still use in another kind of a chemical, but it wasn’t a—acutely toxic or—or chronically—or carcinogenic or something like that. So you saw material substitution going on. And a lot
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of it maybe was just sort of housekeeping. We found a lot of businesses just had a lot of extra stuff around. They’d have three or four drums of some type of solvent or material, and we’d ask them what are you—what are you using this for? Well, you know, we might need that in—you know, at some point. Or they’d have inventories of stuff that had come in and just never been used, and then it got put back in the storeroom and people never used it, and so, you know, we began to do a lot of education about how they handled these chemicals and materials that would come into the facilities, and they
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started thinking about more like, sort of the just in time delivery thing. And we also got them to start thinking a little more like buying in bulk. They used to buy these things in fifty-five gallon drums, and so, you know, you’ve seen the pictures of drum problems and—and superfund sites. Well, we began to think about, well, okay, if you buy that same material in a tote, which is a large container, and use a service provider to bring that material to your site, and that service provider manages the material for you, and then when it gets empty they can take it back and res—refill it. So you never generated an
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empty drum, which then had to be handled as a waste, and—and things like that. Plus—so we had a lot of things like that going. Plus you had an—a rapidly increasing cost of hazardous waste disposal. Because of the regulations the facilities had to upgrade their operations in terms again, putting in liners, more contingency plans, having financial assurance for these treatment disposal facilities. So the cost of a—a disposal went—be—went high, so the economics began to hit the companies, and they said, hey, wait, we’re
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spending way too much money on waste disposal, and that was a big driver to—to reduce their waste and improve their bottom line. And we began to show them by reducing waste that we could save them money. And so that became a really strong message. And so sometimes what we would do is talk about the financial savings to the company in terms of waste generation, and energy use, and water consumption, and use that. And then we knew we were going to get the environmental benefit from those programs, but the
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companies were really interested in their cost. I mean for small businesses and—and medium sized companies, you now, it’s—it’s all about cash flow and things like that. So we could really get their attention about that, and we would get this added benefit of environmental protection. Some companies got it right away. They made the connection about being environmentally, you know, responsible and so it was a natural fit for them. And some of the larger companies that embraced that kind of philosophy made a lot of gains particularly in electronic sector , you know, there was some pretty innovative
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programs done in the early ‘90s. And so what the Waste Reduction Policy Act required is that companies prepare a five-year pollution prevention plan that sets goals and objectives to how they’re going to achieve these reductions. And it didn’t mandate, you know, that thou shall, you know, reduce these chemicals, but it—it was supposed to be used as a tool for the companies to—to put in a program to minimize them—their impact on the environment. And we have had a lot of success with that. We’ve seen a lot of significant reductions over the years. And I’m trying to think, we’ve saved over a
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hundred and ninety million dollars for companies, and saved over twenty million tons of reductions over time. I may be getting the numbers wrong, but we’ve—we kept track of how much cost savings and waste reduction we achieved over that period of time. And that’s an important measure, of course.
DT: Well, what happens when you’ve gotten the low hanging fruit, and what’s left are those chemicals that are really difficult to pull out of the waste stream, and I guess firms start looking for other options to reduce their standing in the Toxic Release Inventory. Basically, the lobbying options of raising the thresholds on what needs to be reported, or exempting some chemicals. I think there’s sodium sulfate was one that was pulled out of the list. Can you talk at all about some of those tactics?
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KZ: Yeah. I think that in the early days there was a question about the quality of the data in the early ‘80s—late ‘80s, I’m sorry. And I think that quality of data improved. There were some questions about how they calculated their emissions, rates and things like that. And, you know, that data improved over time, and is—is—is a as decent indicator as we have as anything. And I think EPA, you know, did some enforcement cases on that, and—and that got folks’ attention about providing the best data that they can. And so the numbers are collected annually. And we’ve been doing that for quite a number of years. There’s been a downward reduce—you know, trend in—in emissions, but those numbers can fluctuate from year to year. Because of production you may have a
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big production year and your—your chemical use may go up, and may go down. They—they can adjust it for production. But a most recent proposal by the Bush Administration is to begin to go to a—a two-year cycle so that we would receive this data every other year. And that has raised some concerns from , you know, state officials as well as environmental organizations about the—the quality of the data over time if we go to that kind of a system. And there are also some changes in the threshold amounts for certain
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types of chemicals, including what we call “persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxics,” or the PBT’s. We began to collect those kinds of information I think in the early to mid ‘90s related to things like mercury and—and other persistent chemicals, and so those have been—that data’s been helpful in targeting reductions for those kinds of—those chemicals because they are hazardous to the environment and public health. We’ve had some concerns about going to that type of a system. We realize that, you know, things change over time, but it’s been such a successful program, and a number of states have
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based their pollution prevention programs off of this annual TRI data, and so if we go to a an every other year system, the data’s already generally about a year old by the time we get it because it’s, you know, for the previous calendar year, and so it’s already kind of old news when we get it, so if we go to every other year now we’re going to even have a longer lag time in terms of the—the data, and may not be as relevant to the company in terms of reductions. And so there’s that, and then there’s the fact that a number of state programs have fees associated with the—the prog—the is—the ta—TRI, and so if we go
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to every other year then the states are going to potentially lose revenue to run these pollution prevention programs which we’ve primarily provided technical assistance to help companies put—put good plans in place and—and monitor compliance with those plans. And so we would be concerned about that. So you—couple of—you know —and another thing is that industry now has built these—the TRI program into their normal operating compliance systems. And so we even heard from some of the larger industrial chemical companies that this proposal really doesn’t have that much impact financially
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because they’ve already built them into their compliance system already, and so by going to every other year is not going to really have any significant savings for them. But—so it’s—it’s kind of being—it’ll be discussed and debated in—in 2006. I think where EPA is coming from is that they are feeling the pressures of budget and they believe if they go to every other year that they can save about two million dollars a year that they could then, you know, use for maybe other purposes. But, you know, you got to question, well, is that a good investment of money, and—and let’s—let’s just stay the course, or is—is there a
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better way to collect and use the data? But it is the foundation for how we have managed our pollution prevention programs as a—a way to tri—have a baseline of where we are on chemical use, and then begin to track that over time. And we’ve been collecting that data for quite a number of years now. And it’s been useful.
DT: Well, you said as segue to your next chapter where you moved on from working with the toxic release inventory and really started to focus on pollution prevention. I’m curious if you could talk a little bit about what you mean by pollution prevention and how maybe up-front planning of facility’s design and its operation can be a more effective way of controlling chemicals in the environment than, say, end of the pipe, putting on a scrubber, or putting on some sort of waste treatment. Just not on the end of the (?) system.
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KZ: Right. That’s a good question. What we observed is in about 1992 we formed the Office of Pollution Prevention and Recycling, and really began to focus on this effort, and getting to educate companies about their sort of emissions that they’re producing. The whole end of pipe., you know, we had accomplished a lot of—of good controls through the traditional programs through the Clean Water Act RCRA, Hazardous Waste Program, Clean Air Act, and had focused on end of pipe solutions. So you’re right, you know, putting a scrubber on the end of a steel mill or—or something like that, and that—
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those produ—produced significant controls and—and—and—and—and improved compliance. But we found that those systems began to have diminishing returns in that if companies began to think about pollution prevention, which means eliminating the pollution or the source of wastes at the beginning so you don’t have to deal with what comes out at the end of the production process, so we would talk about going up—up the pipe into the production processes and looking at where are these materials being produced, and is there a way to reduce that, or use a less toxic material in the production
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process. So we were moving up-stream from the end of pipe, where traditional environmental regulation is focused on end of pipe, you know, management. Put a scrubber on or permit that discharge. And that was important to get that done in place first, as we now have moved up—up the pipe.
DT: Well, can you give an example maybe of a small operator? A dry cleaner, or paint shop, and how you might have moved up the pipe in that case? And then maybe just to contrast it, talk about how you might have dealt with a more complex big firm of chemical facility (?)? How you move up the pipe there.
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KZ: Well, for example, in—in one industry, like aerospace, or say a small plating shop, we had—they do a lot of degreasing of materials. They use a lot of solvents. And they would just dip all the stuff in these big vats and—and pull the stuff out, and then move it over to this vat, and all the stuff would drip on the ground, and—and it was kind of a mess. And plus you had a lot of emissions coming off the degreasers, and things going down into the storm drain, which ends up going into the wastewater treatment system. So there was a number of fairly simple fixes that you could do by for example, in these degreasers, be more efficient about how you load things to be degreased, or how you load them to be plated in—in the process, so you would have less material dripping off of it. There was some technologies using like refrigeration to keep the—the emissions in the units, putting covers on them so stuff doesn’t go to the atmosphere. And you
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could calculate really significant amounts of material that were just being vaporized off into the environment. And so that way you could contain the—the solvents in the unit more efficiently. And so the—you c—you add all that up and you really have some financial savings. On the big industrial types of plants, we had an example recently where there was a—like a carbon black plant, which is a—a really nasty operation. It’s just—it’s—the mat—really the material is carbon that they use for things like newsprint to make inks and things like that. But it’s a—comes from industrial refineries and chemical
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plants. And this one material was being basically land filled. Large volumes. I mean talking hundreds of tons of material just being land filled. Well, we worked with the company and found that that material could be used as a commercial—almost like a commercial product. It—it had a little bit of what they call “hexavalent chrome,” which is a hazardous material, but what we found was in the production process, normally they were using a similar kind of material as this waste material, and actually the waste material had less toxics in it and so we worked with EPA to get that approved, so then
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this material that was being land filled is now become a commercial product that can be used to go into making things like bumpers and things like that in the automotive industry. And so it was a—a great success because it took away what we were throwing in the landfill, created a product, and also created revenue for the company. So it’s now a two or three million revenue stream. And so, you know, people started thinking, ah, this—this waste we used to throw away now has value, and if we can put—use it in a
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safe manner, then it can become a product. And so that gets you into this whole thinking about industrial ecology and—and how you look at industrial systems, and—and how these materials can be used in production and just different—different things.
DT: Let’s talk a little bit about what made your work difficult.
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DT: I’m thinking of situations that arise in some industries like a couple of the carbon black industries. Probably a big buy and small margin kind of industry where every dollar is closely watched. And it’s difficult to make the argument, well, you know, you’ll save so many pennies down the road if you make these large, upfront investments in your facility now. How would you deal with an issue like that?
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KZ: Well, let’s—yeah, let’s talk about that a little bit, because there’s a lot of aspects to what you’re talking about not only in the industry, but also within—within the regulatory agencies. Pollution prevention was seen as this new thing, you know, new kid on the block. And we tended to go against the grain a lot of times about how to manage, you know, regulate the environment. And so we’ve faced challenges at all levels in terms of proving ourselves that this approach really works. Industry would say, well, there’s
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no—the co—the return on investment isn’t there; it’s just easier to deep-well this stuff, you know, and—and—and it’s cheap to do, and why do we need to do any of this stuff. It was, you know, the old mindset about that. And so a lot of times these pollution prevention projects would have to compete internally against other capitalization projects. And they would tend to be—it’d be difficult to sometimes get those approved because the return investment wasn’t within thirty-six months, although we could show a lot of times the—by doing this type of program, the payback was six months or a
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year. In other words, you put this program in place and it will pay for itself by reduced emissions or whatever within six months or a year or two years. So the—the thinking in the corporate world is short term, and not about, you now, more a sustainable type of thing. They’re—they’re trying to do things by the quarter, and so you’re competing against those kinds of projects. So a lot of times these pollution prevention things would—wouldn’t make the cut in the end because of the way they look and finance projects within companies. Does that make sense? So we were competing there. Within
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the regulatory agencies in their—in the—in that world, we were continually trying to prove ourselves again there because folks were suspect as saying, well, you know, how can a approach like this really work? You know, we’ve had success on mandating reductions, making people do what we want them to do, and so that’s been a challenge and continues to be a challenge today with mainstreaming this—this pollution prevention and the sustainability thinking into the agencies because these agencies were born in—
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you know, they’re about thirty years old—1970, and they’re just used to regulating, you know, the—the command and control. And it’s—it’s very easy to do, and it’s—it has a lot of good impact. And I—I totally support that. I think it’s been a great way to—to have good environmental quality. But we’re now at the point where we have lots of other sources of pollution out there from urbanization and—and now we have a global economy. So the—if you just mandate someone to do something yeah, they’ll do it, but
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we’re trying to—to also show that if they could think about how their industry, how they compete within that industry sector, they want to stay alive, they have their company there in ten, fifteen, twenty years, that—nn—you know, start thinking about and incorporating environmental decisions into everyday operations of that business. In the past, the environmental department was stuck over in a corner somewhere, it was considered a cost center. I mean, if you think about it, in most industrial companies, the environmental department was the guys that, okay, had to—we had to install all this
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expensive, exotic technology and maintain it, we got all these regulatory fines against us, which cost the company although some can argue whether those fines were really a driver or not. And so they were seen as sort of a cost center. And so now what we’re trying to do is move the business of environment into the core operating, you know, business thinking. And so some companies are getting that. Companies like Interface Carpets, 3M Company, some of the innovators.
DT: Tell us the stories of 3M or Interface.
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KZ: Interface is a carpet company. And if you think about all the carpet that’s installed, every year, all this stuff would get ripped up and sent to the landfill and filling up our landfills. Well, this company began to think about how the business of carpets is—is done. And what they’ve done now is they still provide a service. They’re in the carpeting service, so they’ll come in and work with a—a client to provide carpeting services. And so the company, you know, sort of outsource their carpeting, so that’s one less thing they have to—but what they do is they create a ta—a tile system where the
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material is completely recyclable. So if you think about it, most carpet, you know, you kind of get a wear pattern in an office or whatever. Well, they just come in and service that carpet. They replace that carpet tile, just put it in there, take the old one back, goes into a production process, it’s reused, recycled, you turn it into a new tile, and then can be continued to be used over time. So again, that material is being used and then recovered, reprocessed, and then going back out. And then, so it’s the—that kind of thinking about keeping that closed loop going. And other companies like 3M, they’ve just really focused on, you know, efficiencies within their production processes to look at new chemicals to use to substitute. They’ve also been very environmentally responsible. And I think that’s another point, is that companies began to see having a strong environmental stewardship program as a corporate core philosophy to be a competitive advantage, particularly as you
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get into a global economy and market because the fact is that the environmental programs are here to stay. They aren’t a new fad, as some folks maybe thought in the early ‘70s that this would just go away at some point. But the environmental literacy, you know, believe it or not, it does continue to increase. People and consumers are more aware about environmental issues. They care about having companies that are socially responsible. And so companies that want to exist in the future are beginning to put these programs in place so that they’re seen as leaders to be in it for the long haul. So that’s how you began
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to see from the pollution prevention planning programs that we put in the early ‘90s, to now what we’re putting is in—is in more of sustainable programs known as “environmental management systems,” because what we found is that when we go into a company and work with them, they come up with a hundred, you know, brilliant ideas to—to reduce waste but then that would fall off because it would be based off maybe one person, or, you know, a champion for that. What we’re doing now is working on putting more systems into place where the financial department and the purchasing department
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and the manufacturing department are all involved with the business of how they manage environment at that company. And it’s a core deci—business making decision. Even down to the small business level, thinking about that kind of thing. So that—by putting in more of a systems approach, you’re not dependent on any one individual, and you’re also tying in the top corporate managers, particularly now, as you look at the post-Enron period. There are now requirements under Securities and Exchange Commission in terms
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of environmental liabilities and reporting. And so now the companies are going, well, we don’t want these liabilities on our spreadsheets so let’s get these superfund sites off of our—our rolls, clean them up and things like that, so that the, you know, the public’s going to have a lot more awareness about the environmental performance of the company. And it’s also tied to things when you go look at the criticism that Nike has had globally about their labor practices, and also environment that it’s more difficult now to
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hide that stuff away, not—not that they n—meant to do that in the beginning, but people are just now aware of it now. People are more socially aware about impacts, and we talk about the triple bottom line of environment, economy, and social responsibility. And so the companies that have those three types of philosophies, or core values, are the ones that are going to survive in the future.
DT: What I thought we could also talk a little bit about is regulatory flexibility which you worked on in the late ‘90s. When you talk to Brandt Mannchen, he was talking about how he has suspicions about flexibility not having a kind of fairness and clarity that command and control has. And so I thought we could talk a little bit about that. And the upside, too, you know, the efficiency and so on. And then I thought we could talk about your next chapter (?) source pollution, which I think is really interesting, because you started getting into these things, they’re all about behavior, that you’ve done all this neat work with industries, where how they could tell people what to do (?). What happens when you have these big amorphous problems that are out there in the public?
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KZ: Yeah, that’s the—the big challenge that we…
DT: I thought that might give us a good lead into talking about this issue you’ve talked about at the National Pollution Prevention Roundtable and move toward sustainability.
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KZ: Yeah. There’s one other area. I don’t know if you want to get into, but we—we did a lot of work with NAFTA and a whole border, just a—it’s a…
DT: Oh, really? Okay. Well, I did see that you were involved in colonias. I didn’t know if that was a big part of that. It would be interesting to talk about low tech. I mean that’s—they have really low tech but really serious (?).
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KZ: Well, we—and we actually focused—well, a lot on the Maquiladora District because…
DT: We did.
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KZ: …because all those wastes come back in the United States. But if you—want to…
DT: Well, why don’t we talk about that immediately.
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KZ: Do you want to figure about—if you want to talk about borders. But we finished—we were just talking about—well, we could go into Reg Flex, and then maybe if you’re starting to talk a little more broad—globally, you know, I could bring in the, you know, inter—we (?) working internationally with Mexico and some of the merchant—there’s so many things. But I don’t know if that’s important if you want to capture some stuff related to the—you know, the whole Mexico stuff.
DT: Oh, yeah. No, that’s fascinating. Why don’t we do that now, if you don’t mind, while we’re talking about industry. Ken, we’ve talked some about pollution prevention at 3M and Interface and some pretty notable American companies. But could you talk a little bit about the effort to reduce pollution at Maquiladoras and some of these firms that are in the border zone?
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KZ: Well, that’s a great question and it goes back a bit, so I’ll have to kind of give you a little bit of background on it. But again, in 19—about 1992, when we were forming the Pollution Prevention Office, was the—when NAFTA was being debated as far as how we’re going to do that kind of an agreement, the North American Free Trade Agreement, and as part of that process there was these environmental, what they called “side agreements” set up, and it talked about how we were going to deal with the environment, you know, in terms of NAFTA. And we saw that as an opportunity because it was a—a
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new area, hadn’t really been dealt with dealing with the whole Texas-Mexico border. We have five Mexican states that border Texas, and there was a large industrial presence there through these maquiladoras. And we knew that if NAFTA passed that there were going to be increased production going on down there. And under the treaties—it’s called the La Paz Agreement—those wastes that are generated in maquiladora facilities are required to bring them back into Texas. And so the way the maquilas worked, they were like—they call it a sister plant operation where you have basically all the raw materials
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on the U.S. side, and then the production, putting everything together is on the Mexican side, and then the materials have to come back. And so it was to our advantage to get in there early and try to work with the maquilas to reduce their pollutants. And so we started doing technical assistance and going across the border and establishing a relationship with the—the Mexican officials. And—and that was a kind of interesting process to get in there, and there was a—we worked primarily with probably better performers, and there were a lot of maquilas that we weren’t able to get to that for one reason or another, you know, were not the—the stellar performers, and there was a lot of problems with
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pollution down there. A lot of it’s infrastructure. There’s no wastewater treatment plants. The roads, bridges, it—just the whole nine yards. And so we felt like at least we could get in there and do some—some positive things by working with the industry. And we’ve had, you know, some success with getting them to reduce their pollutants. And we had—also established I think a long-term relationship with the Mexicans and their counter state officials, and have put in partnership agreements to work together on the border. But there was a lot of significant pollution, and continues to be along the border region, and
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had been kind of a neglected area. It’s kind of—it’s this whole zone to itself. And even the Mexicans, they—they view the border differently than they consider, you know, Central Mexico, Mexico City. So it has its own, you know, kind of life of its own in terms of all this stuff coming together in terms of maquilas and drug trafficking and—and it’s a—it’s a st—it’s kind of a strange animal to work with. But the—there is environmental presence there. I think there’s still a lot of challenges. On the U.S. side we have colonias that are basically trying to get some kind of infrastructure in there, and
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how do we support that. I was down recently in—in Mexico, and they’re starting to do methane recovery in their landfills. They’re very educated, a lot of the technical engineers. And they are—I think they want to do better environmental protection given the opportunity, but it is a developing economy, and it sometimes gets pushed to the side to a certain degree. But there is a strong environmental ethic, you know, within the folks that I have worked with through the North American Commission on Environmental
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Cooperation, and some leaders down there. In fact they have a pollution prevention program down there now, and we’ve been helping them set their programs up place, and to (?) because it’s—it’s been an—an interesting phenomenon, you know, to work with internationally on these issues, and we’re—we’re con—continuing to think it’s important to work with Mexico. They’re a great neighbor for Texas. Our large trade between the two countries, I think it’s either number one, or maybe number two behind China in
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terms of U.S. trade. So it’s important that we have a presence down there and support that, and continue to work with it. And…
DT: Maybe you can give us an example of maybe a particular maquiladora or a particular colonia, you know, an industrial problem, and then more of a sort of municipal, residential problem that you worked on.
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KZ: Well, we’ve—we worked with a number of the maquilas, but one that comes to example for—comes to mind, for example, is—is Delphi Corporation, which was a 3M spin-off, and they manufacture a lot of the electronic harnesses that go into automobiles, and so they assemble a lot of those things down there. But they were generating a lot of solvent-related wastes and materials, and so we went in there and put in these pollution prevention programs where they started looking at how they managed those—those waste materials, and how they work with the employees to educate them about the materials,
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putting safer practices so there’s less worker exposure, and programs like that. At the same time we also introduced the idea of being involved with the community and putting in programs that benefit the local citizenry. For example, working with a local daycare program to help put in educational programs, to improve a local park, and so those things, so that they began to think about their impact on the local community and supporting folks. So we help promote those kinds of programs, putting in the recycling programs
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working with the trade associations on educational forums and I—all that. So in—, you know, they are now having pressure on—from China, because China has become a cheaper market to produce goods and services, and so we’ve had a lot of maquilas close and sort of abandon and go over there. But , you know, that creates other problems of, in terms of the economy down there. And it’s—it’s a huge complex problem but I think there’s a, you know, a long term need to continue to work with Mexico because some of our recyclables, for example, paper, and things like that, they have—they need material.
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They—there’s been a lot of deforestation in Mexico so a lot of the paper that we generate, or recyclables can go to Mexico where they can use it in their mills. And so it’s important, you know, to have kind of a symbiotic relationship with—with Mexico in the future to—to—to promote recycling and—and programs like that. And I think that they’re—they’re putting those programs in place, I’d say that they’re maybe about twenty beh—behind us, but they do understand the issues. It’s a matter of cat—in—infrastructure and capitalization of—of putting in the basic needs down there. They still
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have lot—need a lot of just basic wet water treatment and wastewater treatment. But if they are going to put in programs and they can do pollution prevention, that’s one of these kind of leapfrog technologies. If you think about, like cell phones, when, you know, you don’t have to build pow—power lines for phone systems, they just went ahead and implemented cell phone programs. And so if we can get them to—to start doing pollution prevention programs up front, then they may avoid the p—p—legacy problems we’ve had here in the U.S. with cleaning up our superfund sites and finding illegal disposal,
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although a lot—there’s a—you know, a lot of that happening down there. They also don’t have the disposal capacity that they need to really manage things. But it’s—it’s starting, you know. They’re getting—getting things going there.
DT: Can you touch a little bit on the issue of colonias on the Texas side (?)?
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KZ: A little bit. I—I didn’t really work a lot in the colonias issues specifically but the fact is that we’ve had a lot of issues related to colonias in Texas for a long time. And those address—those needs are beginning to be addressed. I think primarily because of the—the legislators and the communities in Tex—the Texas border region making a stronger push at the lez—legislature, as to say you can’t ignore the border, so we have things like medical schools being built along the border now to service those areas. colonias needs, basic infrastructure needs, and I think there’s opportunities down there
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particularly because they—if you think about it, it’s one of the fastest growing areas in the country, has been because of all the NAFTA stuff, and will continue to be. And so we need to think about their energy use and things like that. So there are renewables—energy sources that can be used down there. They actually have geothermal sources. They have a lot of potential wind, and there is a decent amount of sun. So potentially solar could be something, and particularly in colonias, if we can get these technologies down to a really affordable level, then there may not be a need to go ahead and build a whole traditional
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infrastructure or wastewater treatment plants and all that stuff. Is within these colonias is we could, you now, provide them with solar power generation, things like that to have–there are the things locally that may be a—a way to bridge, you know, as they—as—as we develop it. But the infrastructure is very expensive, and I think it—it—it ties to a bigger global problem about how we manage water and—and—and electricity use. If you think—if everybody on the planet wants to have those types of things, which I think people should have a right to clean water and good sanitation, that our traditional systems
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may not be the most appropriate. And so if you look at colonias, if we could, you know, use renewable energy promote use—the use of things like compostable toilets onsite, I mean that might be a better way to get things started in terms of managing those problems out there. It’s not an easy solution, and there’s a lot of issues about equity that are being dealt with, and of course, that environment comes with that, the whole environmental justice issues of ignoring certain populations, or having impacts on them,
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whether, you know, known or unknown about citing of facilities, so it’s very complex, and I think that the—that—that area down there is going to continue to need the support and financing to put things in place. But I think at the same time, if we can be looking at—at—at taking advantage of things, like solar, and wind, and others as sources down there, then we may not need to build a—a traditional coal-fire power plant down there, and—and that creating those kinds of issues. So it—it’ll be interesting to see how—how we address all that in the future.
DT: You talked a little bit about dealing with colonias and the public as opposed to the industrial facilities. I understood that when you worked at TCQ in the Pollution Prevention Industrial Systems section that you also got involved in non-point source of pollution, and how to deal with storm run-off. And that’s intriguing to me. It sounds like a very large, awkward kind of problem that involves a lot of cooperation from the land use angles and kind of behavior, where people want to live and how they want to use their land. Can you talk about how you dealt with that?
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KZ: Yeah. I mean that’s a fascinating area to look at, and we have been starting to work in that area. And one of our goals have been to—to work with the traditional media programs—air, water, waste—because we’re st—kind of take a multimedia look at things. And non-point source began to be a really significant problem in the early ‘90s as we saw increased urbanization, and there began to be new regulatory requirements about
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how to manage storm water in the urban areas. And so the state began to inventory all our water segments. And one of the problems is that we’ve created what our—our ability to these waste—these—these streams to handle these—the waste loads. In other words, it’s this thing called “the total daily maximum load,” or TMDL’s. And it’s kind of a system where the water bodies are designated as either impaired water bodies and the goal is to get them back to fishable and swimmable. Well, a lot of the problems of—related to non-
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point source is that all this stuff from our housing and streets all drain into these water segments and have impacts on the water quality. So there’s a lot focus now on how to manage storm water. And so you see a lot more of the storm water retention basins out there, which were, you know, early control set in to—to capture the storm water, let the pollutants settle out, and then the cleaner water can go—go out. And so the challenge right now is that we’re continuing to grow, new subdivisions are being put in, and they weren’t really designed to handle storm water. And so what we’re pushing now is things
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like what we call “low impact development,” where you can start looking at where you place the homes, how that water is managed in the neighborhoods, can it be captured for reuse, can it create, you know, wetland-type options for things. And so it’s a way to capture all the pollutants from our cars, and pesticides, and fertilizers that we put on our yards, and manage those more appropriately. We began to—to begin to work with the construction industry, which we had never really even worked with that—these other sectors. You know, we’ve been working with chemical and refining and plating shops
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and things like that, and had stayed away from things like construction and highway building, and things like that. But that’s where a lot of the activity is now. We’ve got good controls, or more or less, or things—systems in place to deal with the other stuff. But—so for example, again, going back to this idea of simple things. We—with compost, for example, we were able to—to use—take this compost material and mulch and basically use them for storm water controls on construction sites. You know, everyone’s
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seeing the silt fences around, and those things work okay, but they aren’t as effective sometimes managing storm water run-off as some of these other technologies we’ve found. What you do basically is take the compost and mulch, put it into a mesh back, or blow it into a bag, and it creates like a big pillow sock. And that pillow sock can be used to put along curbs, or along creeks, and it has a couple benefit. Once, it absorbs water, prevents the storm water run-off so you have less erosion, and less segment, you know, sedimentation going into our creeks and rivers, and it—kind of just—kind of goes away
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over time because you don’t have to come back and pull the stakes out and wrap up the old storm water controls that you see around. So—it—that was an emerging technology, but believe it or not, as simple of it—as it was, we had to get EPA approval as a—as a, you know, storm water control feature. And again, we bucked the traditional thinking—a lot of this was about behavior change, and that’s quite challenging. People were used to doing things the way they’ve been doing them, and that’s—that’s the same in industry or any other thing, you know, we’ve been doing this for thirty years, it’s working just fine,
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you know, why should we change? And so that—there’s a lot of that thinking out there, and we run into that all the time about trying to look at things differently, or maybe a change in your lifestyle a bit in terms of your consumer choices, and things like that.
DT: Maybe you could take an opportunity now to talk about how you encourage somebody to change their behavior. It sounds like you’ve been involved in regulatory flexibility programs, and you’ve been involved in market incentives, and you work for an agency that’s had a long history, legacy, of commanding control. I’m curious how you sort of reinvented (?) government so that there is more flexibility, but there’s still the fairness and universal kind of application that you had from command and control. Can you address some of that?
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KZ: Yeah. There’s a couple of things that come to mind. I don’t want to underscore the seriousness of the problems that we’re dealing with in Texas today. If you think about it, we have nine non-attainment areas in Texas for clean air. So we have unhealthy hai—air in Texas. I mentioned the total daily maximum, or the TMDL Program. We’ve had more segments being added—more river segments being added to that every year, in terms of the environment, and so I don’t want to paint really a—necessarily the—a rosy picture about how we’re going about managing the environment in Texas because we do have a lot challenges. We’ve had a lot of, you know, successes over time, but the challenges are increasing. And I’m concerned that the way we’ve been approaching
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environmental protection isn’t getting us necessarily the gains that we need. If—if our air quality seems to be decreasing, if we have more TMDL segments going on the list, we have continued cleanup sites, you know, thi—this is a problem. And the population’s increasing. How are we going to deal with this? Plus you take the fact that since probably about the mid ‘90s there’s been increased pressure on our—on our agencies to do more with less. We’ve been operating under employee caps, where the legislature
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won’t let us hire additional staff, so the workload has increased, and so this sort of philosophy about big government is bad has increased a lot of pressure on the agency to cover the gamut of issues that we have to deal with. And so I think we’re at a very tenuous point right now as whether we’re going to be able to effectively handle the environmental challenges in the future without additional resources and funding to do the myriad of things. And so I—I think I’ve sort of gone away from your original question, but I wanted to sort of paint a picture that this is what we’re dealing with today. And
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beginning to look at things like regulatory flexibility, or environmental stewardship, you know, those kinds of phrases begin to raise the hair on the back of the necks of environmentalists because of what does that really mean? How much flexibility are we talking about? And it’s ver—more challenging to do those types of programs because they are—tend to be more facility specific, whereas you take a command and control type approach and it applies to everybody, and you put it out there, and it has large impact on large groups of people. If we move to more of a—what we call “performance-based
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regulation,” where it allows more of a performance standard. We say, okay, this is—we want you to have like zero discharge from your facility. No en—environmental impact going off site. How you get there, I don’t care. Just, you make it happen through your normal processes and let folks figure out how to do that, and reward them for that performance. So if they—they demonstrate their performance, and it’s verified, say, by the agency or a third party, then I think we should have a different relationship with a
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high performer that’s demonstrated their success as opposed to another company that is a poor performer, has had a lot of problems getting the job done, and they need more regulatory oversight. And so if you’ve got less resources to deal with at—at—in the agency, then you got to start looking at these other options. And I think that it’s beginning to, you know, get people to think about, okay, if a company can demonstrate performance, and I’m talking about verifiable performance—we have an environmental management systems program that we put in place a couple of years ago, and we
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established a very high standard for companies to demonstrate performance to—so that they put a program in place and we go out and audit their program to make sure that they’re functioning at a high level. One of the things about the regulatory programs we set up is that in—in the purely compliance-driven scheme, you can go out there and you can find a—a drum on a—on a l—a label on a drum that may not have been filled out properly, and they get a notice of violation for that, okay, they can—you know, they can fix that problem. They can get that label fixed and train the employee. What we’re trying
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to do now is look at more systemically the fact that there’s a mislabeled label on a drum is an indication that they’re not going about managing the environment very well at this facility. So if you think about it, you—if you found a—a—a label on a drum that was bad, you’re probably going to find problems over here in the way they manage storm water, and—and—and how they handle their air emissions. And so what we’re saying is that if they have an effective program in place, and it addresses those issues, and they maintain high levels of compliance, then we should maybe provide this company more
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regulatory flexibility or the ability to interface with the agency in a different way so that—kind of like a frequent flyer program. You know, the more you participate, the more benefits. So if you’re a high performer you can, say, get your permit handled by a senior permitting engineer and maybe more effic—process more rapidly. Again, there’s a big component of public com—participation so that the public also recognizes your facility as a high performer and is comfortable with the fact that the agency may have a different regulatory relationship. In other words, we may not go out there—do we have to
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go out there and inspect those guys every year if we know that they’ve got their act together, they’re doing a good job, that they’re demonstrating performance over time, and reporting that performance back to us, that we can maybe take the—our resources, which are limited now, and go and—after, you know, where the significant problems might be. Now we would love to have more people and staff and money, but it doesn’t seem to be the trend in government. And we’ve also been partnering now a bit with other agencies,
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so we work more with local governments and EPA more than we ever did before in the past because, you know, it—there’s a—there’s not enough of us to go around so we’re—we’re trying to—to—to leverage what we do have out there as, you know, public servants.
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DT: Ken, you’ve been talking about ways to improve people’s behavior, and one way, of course, is by encouraging and giving them incentives. But the other way is by punishing them when they violate the laws. And I realize that in recent years there’s been some controversy about whether the kind of economic advantages that folks get by violating the laws and then punished, as much as they should be so that they don’t have an incentive to evade the requirements. I’m curious if you feel like the carrots that you’ve been providing thorough regulatory flexibility or market incentives have been matched by a stern stick to make sure that folks don’t stray. What do you think?
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KZ: No, I don’t think it’s been—been comparable or—or equivalent. I think than I’ve been a really strong advocate for strong enforcement presence. And I’ve felt like that the state has tended to back away from that for whatever reason over the last, say, ten years or so, because I think that if you have a strong enforcement presence—compliance and enforcement presence, that that will drive additional pollution prevention programs. If you’re out there and people are on notice that they’re going to be checked out and reviewed, they get really motivated about how they go about managing their operations.
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And so I’ve always been a really strong advocate for strong envir—enforcement programs, and I’ve—I think that the agency has tended to back away from that for—for some time. And so recently here there’s been a pres—presence to increase enforcement and put in a new penalty policy, which I think will go towards a long way of en—encouraging more the command and control kind of thing, which, you know, I think it’s important that the penalties be such that they do have impact, that it’s just not the cost of doing business. And our penalties need to be higher, I think, to get people’s attention, and
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we should continue to—to promote that. The—the challenge where we’ve faced is that folks have tended to look at our programs as sort of softer approach but my argument is that if you look at the way we’ve been doing enforcement or compliance inspections, are they producing any better results? You know, you go in and they’ll do an inspection, they’ll fix the problem. Okay, you come back a year later, the same problem, on and on and on. So you’re—that system needs to be in place and effective. But at the same time, if we’re putting in these complian—assistance programs that are also producing more
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sustainable results, so that company has taken—, you know, looks at things differently that they say we don’t—we want to get out of the waste generation business so we don’t produce it in the first place, and I think you have to look at that approach as being effective. But I think that we need to have a really strong enforcement presence, and the agency does that very well when—when inspired to do so, as well as the permitting options. I think there’s a lot of good people within the agency and they do the best they can to get the best permits enforcement through the—through the system that we have in
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place. But I think that we do need a stronger leadership on the environment that we haven’t had in the last ten years or so. And I would say even most recently the current governor, current administration has placed even less emphasis on the environment than in the past. Even with the Bush Administration, there was support for these pollution prevention programs and things like that. And I think legislature and perhaps the governor even, over the last several years the environment hasn’t been a front burner
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issue, and there hasn’t been the political demand, the public hasn’t been really out there dealing with it because of the economy, the post 9-11 issues. Focused—people are really focused on crime and education and—and the environment has been sort of put on the back burner. And as a result, you know, the funding levels have been—been more or less held steady, but they’re not increasing, and in some cases being cut back. So what do you do when you have facing budget cuts? Well, you look at things like voluntary programs, or compliance assistance. Those will be maybe the first things to go. And we’ve seen
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over time an erosion within the agency to support these types of programs. We do have a pretty good robust program at the agency. I mean compared to a lot of states we have a great presence. We have, you know a lot of employees are working on these programs, but I felt like it’s been sort of chipped away every year, you know . If you—one employee here, a position not being filled, those kinds of things. So there’s been increased pressure to do these programs with less people. At the same time you have an increasing interest in this type of approach and people really embracing, you know, more
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sustainable practices within their businesses. And so it’s going to be a matter of finding a balance to go between the regulatory and sort of ron—non-regulatory because you—you kind of need both, I think to have a really effective program about—and how you can go about managing non—things we don’t regulate like energy use, or water consumption. And we want to encourage people to be able to conserve those resources and—efficiently, and put things in place that help drive that, whether it’s an economic
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incentive, or a strong enforcement program, and so it all kind of fits together. But the—the agency of the future needs to be more of an environmental management agency that has both the regulatory functions and do that well, as well as non-regulatory things to drive consumer behavior, impacts on products. I think that’s where some of the challenges in the future will be.
DT: Well, it’s interesting the way you describe the agency as being a—it’s a large place, big institution, but it sounds like it’s a cog in a very big machine., you know, the governor, and the legislature, and the industry, and the people in colonias, and the maquiladoras, and then it—it has a lot of different forces that it has to respond to. And I guess one of the biggest is the nonprofit community. And you’ve been active with Sierra Club, and the executive committee position, and as the (?) personnel director at the Lone Star Chapter. And I was hoping that you could tell us about both the relationship between Sierra Club and TCEQ, and its predecessors and some of the internal machinations at Sierra Club. The struggles that it faces to try and keep a staff going, and short budget situations.
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KZ: Well, when I first got out of school back in 1982, I got initially a—started doing some part-time work with Ken Kramer who at that time was on contract as a contract lobbyist. He initially started as a volunteer, and then was a, I think, contract lobbyist for the chapter, and then became a—an employee. In ‘82-’83, I was a—had an internship, or
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part time job there, and I remember our first legislative session, you know, our big legislative push was container deposit legislation, which you think back now twenty years how much—how many issues we’ve dealt with over time, that looks so simple. And—and of course it never passed any—it never went anywhere, but you had to start somewhere, right? And I think that, you know, Ken Kramer’s always had been a mentor to me, and I’ve become personal friends with him for—for quite some time, and we enjoy
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a lot of the same things. So , you know, it’s been a—a really interesting process to be working in a state agency, but at the same time active in the environmental community, because I felt like as an environmentalist that I could do a lot of good work by being inside an—an environmental agency, and that’s, you know, challenging to do. But I felt like, you know, it was a good place for me to help promote en—balanced environmental protection, and to promote these kinds of programs. But I had been involved with the Lone Star Chapter for—since ‘82, and worked in various capacities, and served in some
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leadership roles there and it’s been interesting. I think that the environmental community is very well respected in Texas and has had a presence for quite some time now where their voice is heard. Folks like Ken and others are—are respected at the legislature for their views and are being brought in on particularly important issues related to water issues that the state’s working on now in terms of water availability, which is probably our—our number one issue that we’re dealing with. And so, you know, having a very professional presence, organized presence with the regulatory agency. The Sierra Club
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and others have always had that, and I think have—have a long history and have demonstrated commitment to providing valued input into the process. And so they have done a lot to get us to where we are today. And particularly in the pollution prevention programs. That was an f—an area where industry and the environmental community could come together and agree that this was an important strategy. And so by putting those programs in place, I think, you know, I was a—a good person to help the—build and facilitate that over the last twenty years or so. So…
DT: You mentioned the water issue, and it comes to mind that the cooperative opportunities are wonderful, but sometimes, you know, strange bed fellows that aren’t always too comfortable together. I understand that when the litigation over the endangered species aspects of the withdrawals they were talking (?) were underway that you were asked to lead the Sierra Club’s officer role. Can you tell a little bit about that, and how that came (?)?
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KZ: Yeah. I guess—I guess that’s—that’s a n—kind of an interesting story. It’s—I was serving on the executive committee of the Lone Star Chapter, and employed at the agency, and the Sierra Club filed the Edwards Aquifer Lawsuit. I can’t remember exactly. Maybe ‘86-’87, or—I may be a little early there. So I was working at the agency and there weren’t any really restrictions on that. We—the—at the same time there was an ethics policy that had come out. This may have been, I guess, in the Rich—during the
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Richards Administration. And it talked about, you know, you can’t be part of an organization that sues the agency basically. So it really hadn’t been a problem up until the point where there was an article in the San Antonio Light about Sierra Club sues the State of Texas on the Edwards, and it listed the members of the executive committee, and then lo and behold, oh, Ken Zarker’s name is listed in the front page of the paper in San Antonio. And so I got an e-mail very quickly from my executive director at the time it was Tony Grigsby, who was a—a great executive director in the agency, and we have
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a—we’re still friends today, but I got a call saying Zarker, this is going to be a problem because you can’t be on an executive board based on our agency’s ethics policy. So I said, fine, I understand. So I went ahead and resigned from the State Ex. Com. I didn’t want to make a big deal about it. Stuart Henry wanted to go ahead and—and—and sue the bastards, you know. Said that ethics policy won’t hold up in court, blah, blah, blah. And it was kind of a, you know, an interesting time being told that you can’t do something, you know, which is—I was a volunteer. But I could understand. But I—you
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know, I was—you know, involved with environmental organization, but I was also involved with professional non-profit organizations as well, like the Air and Waste Management Society, or the Central Texas Hazardous Waste Management Society, which also, you know, provided input in—into agency policy issues as well. But nonetheless, there was this, you know, new daddy in Texas with an—and so I stepped back and I took a—a more passive role in being involved with the Sierra Club. And so I
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had tended over the last several years to focus on just helping support things like the financial aspects and serving as a chapter supervisor for staff for Ken Kramer, and helping him put his performance plan in place, and things like that. More administrative functions, and just sort of as a—as a—as a friend in—in manner of that, but kind of, you know, keeping an eye on—on—on all the aspects of what the chapter’s involved with.
DT: Well, you’re modest about it, but the finances and the personnel issues of a small non-profit are pretty (?). I mean here you got TCEQ, which has a budget in the tens of millions, and then you have the Sierra Club, which has the responsibility of speaking for the public, and has big inhibitions, and yet very small budget for what they’re trying to do. How have you dealt with those constraints and the problems of burnout and frustration among the staff?
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KZ: Well, that has been a very interesting process too, because as I got into supporting the development side of things, we established a Defenders of Texas Program, which was—and we became more—a little more sophisticated about fundraising, of course. We—we began to do some direct mail aspects. We gan—began to build a foundation of Texans that were really supportive of the environment, Sierra Club members that really supported what we were doing and they began to give us money every year. And we would send annual contributions, and they’d send them, and then we—from there we built a little larger program. We decided we’re going to create the Texas Environmental
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Endowment, which was this idea to create a kind of a legacy program. It still exists today. It doesn’t have the—we were trying to get a hundred thousand dollars into this fund, and I think today it has, maybe, twenty thousand if we’re lucky. But the idea where people could donate, you know, from their estates a long term s—commitment. So we put those kinds of programs, and then we started with a big a larger donor program and got some larger gifts from folks. And then they have this really core of supporters. But the staff, you know, has gone from basically one individual to approximately six, seven, or eight
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folks over the—over time. We established Environmental Justice position in the past with Raul Alvarez, or Ramon—Raul Alvarez who is on city council now. And a number of the staff have grown and stayed over time. It—and so I guess what I’m trying to say is we’ve—we’ve been conservative about growing the office to handle what we could do, but at the same time we have a—a good presence, a solid foundation that is kind of the envy of a number of the chapters around the country because we’ve—we’ve got a good base of support. And they—the staff do work incredible hours, and they’re very motivated. And that is a challenge because it does tend to lead more towards burnout, and
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I don’t know how you really deal with that. You know, you have to tell the staff to, you know, go take some time off and—and—and—and which is hard for them to do at time, but they’re very dedicated and they do great work, and they’re respected, and involved in so many aspects of environment. We’re focused a lot more on water related issues over the last several years, and air quality as because they’re the main, you know, most
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significant issues right now that’s facing Texas. But I’ve seen the office grow from a one-office place over on 29th Street, which we shared with groups like the Texas Observer, Sierra Club; I think Ecology Action was in there. I don’t know if you’ve run into that, but there was this building over there on 29th Street we all—with ugly shag carpet, and we’ve grown from that to now where we have a really strong sustainable office, and I’m proud of that. And I—it—part of it was—was raising the funds to do that, and—and building the support, and being consistent and producing results, you know.
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Being in day in and day out, and doing the work. I—and—and now, with having a—a young family, I’m focusing on that more, and a little bit less on the—on the volunteer aspects of it. But I feel good about where the—the chapter’s in—in—financially in. It looks like we’ll hopefully continue to thrive in the future.
DT: Something else that you’ve been involved with in Texas in a sort of non-profit world is an effort to document what’s been going on. You have this video program with ACTV, the Austin Community Television called Firstline. I think you produced it with Rick Sternberg. I was wondering if you could tell something about that effort, and some of the programs you had, and the results that you might have had.
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KZ: Yeah, I—I had—I had—there was a part of me that really wanted to reach out to the community about all the environmental issues. Going out there and I—and I thought, you know, TV is a—is the—is a great median to do that. In about ‘84 I started taking some courses down at ACTV to learn how to use video equipment and edit videotape, and—and I started doing that. And actually, one of my first projects was with the Texas Center for Policy Studies where we went and interviewed a number of people that lived in the Deer Park area because of the recent Bhopal incident which was a trigger for the
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whole TRI Program we wanted to find out how people felt about whether—you know, what would happen in Texas City if we had a similar incident. So I worked with Texas Center for Policy Studies and we put together this little tape, and that was sort of one of our first projects. And then from there, we began to tape things like the legislative workshop that we could help educate citizens about the legislative process and how you can be involved in public participation and what are the issues related to natural area preservation, and those kinds of issues. And so I felt like video was a great medium to do
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that and we produced a number of those kinds of shows that we could show locally here on the cable. And then we from there developed a new magazine format with Rick Anberg and Annie Borden which we called Earthline, and featured a number of the prominent folks in—in Austin at the time. George Avery, and Bridget Shay, and Robert Bryce, and another—a number of environmentalists, and one of the things people credit me is like how did you get all these people to work together on one show? But it was a—an incredible time. We—we produced this thing in—as volunteers for about a year. We produced, I think, about six shows. And the idea was to do mostly consumer
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education and talk about what was going on in terms of the growth in Austin, what was happening up at the legislature, what issues we’re facing. We did a show on Toxic Texas and things like that. So it was a lot of fun. And, you know it was hard to sustain that thing without, you know, funding obviously. So there was a—there was a—a continued need to—to have that. And now with cable and, you know, three hundred channels on TV, I’m hoping at some point we’ll have a—an—an—more of an environmental challenge. We have things like Discovery Channel and—and others that are good, but I still think there’s
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a need for consumer education out there, or maybe these other TV shows could—, you know, they’re putting more environmental topics within their programming because I think consumers are interested in that in terms of their choices on products and things.
DT: Well, maybe you can use this chance to talk a little bit about where we’re headed. You’ve been Chair at the National Pollution Prevention Roundtable. And you wrote an article I thought was interesting about the need to evolve from pollution prevention to something I think you called “sustainable production and consumption.” I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about that, and also about how you can sort of reinvent government to try to be a spearhead for some of those changed.
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KZ: So, easily done, right?
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KZ: Yeah, I have been really fortunate to serve in a number of capacities. One of those has been as Chair of the National Pollution Prevention Roundtable, which is a—an organization that is dedicated solely to promoting pollution prevention and source reduction in the United States. And that has been a very interesting area to work in. And one of the things that’s really been fascinating is that we’ve taken this concept and started it in, you know, the late ‘80s, and really have a strong hold here in the United States. But at the same time, we now have over sixty countries around the planet that have also
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started pollution prevention programs. And so we work closely with our friends in Mexico and Canada as part of the North America, but we also have roundtables Asia Pacific, the European Roundtable, and so we’ve been beginning to r—to build this sort of global network of—of—of providers that are out there. And so that’s been pretty exciting to be a part of that, and part of this whole, you know, sort of culture change, behavior change of—of how we look about how we work with the environment, and which has led
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to thinking about the future. And one of the—the challenges is where do we go from here? We’ve really focused very effectively on the production side of things, and working with companies to be more efficient in the use of their materials and water and energy, but we really haven’t focused as much effort on the consumption side, the public.
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And so the public can have a lot of impact on the types of products and services that they demand from our producers. So we’ve been getting to think about bringing these two things together, and what we’re calling it for lack of better words—some people call it “sustainability,” which is a very broad term, it means a lot of things to different people, clean—clean—cleaner production. Well, what we’ve kind of wanted to bring is both the—what we call now “sustainable consumption and production.” So that you kind of
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bring both systems together because our consumption patterns in the United States and globally, are not really sustainable if you think about it. Is everybody in China going to have a car, a big giant house, twenty-five hundred square foot house? The planet just can’t sustain those levels, in my opinion. So we need to look at how we can manage the resources that we have. And what sustainable consumption and production is all about is just being more efficient in the goods and services that we use. It’s not about consuming
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less, it’s just consuming better, so that we can still vehicles and transportation, and good energy sources. Those are the things that everyone needs to have as basic services. We need to have clean water. We—this—we could solve the—the—a lot of problems with providing clean water to—nn—citizens around the world. Basic sanitation. It can be done. It’s within the financial grasp of society. We know that. And it can be done, and I think it will be done. Once we get to that point, then we have to look about different ways to provide goods and services, different from the U.S. model. Other parts of the world have different needs. And I think the most exciting work probably going on right now is
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how do we design more sustainable systems within developing countries? And there’s some very fascinating work being done through some samples like Gaviotas, which is a group down in, ga—Colombia, where they’ve created very low-tech solutions to the way they go about with their housing. How they pump wa—for example, when they want to pump water, they’ve designed it so that the children can go out and play on the playground and ride a bicycle, and go up and down, which produces a pump that
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generates water that t—comes into the community where they can then use that for clothing and bathing and things like that. And that works perfectly well. There’s other examples. Another person that’s working a lot on this is a na—a guy named Gunther Pauli, who talks about—and he’s very positive about the environment, but talks about more sustainable consumption and production patterns. The Japanese are doing a lot of work in this area. For example, even companies like Toyota Corporation are looking at
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ways to paint their cars differently. And there’s a fascinating story where they have a problem in Japan with the s—the squid—waste squid., you know, they like to eat a lot of seafood over there. Well, if you think about squid, it produces this black ink. And it’s been looked at as saying, well, if they can produce this black ink, can that material be looked at as a way to coat automobiles in the future? And this whole field is called—it’s sort of bio-mimicry, and looking at if we can duplicate—replicate the system that nature has provided us over eons and eons of year—I meant he planet generates clean air and clean water, and these types of systems. And if we can learn as a species to become more
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harmonized with that, then I think we’ll figure out ways to su—you know, survive more effectively as a species. If you think about it, we’re relatively new on the planet, and we’re trying to find our way. And we’re not very efficient, and we’re kind of messy, and we kind of tromp around over and—and step—and get in the way of things. So the thinking now is taking more of a systems a—approach to the way we address environmental protection. And you think of the simple things that we’ve done, you know. For example, the—the guy that first invented Velcro. Well, if you look at that story, it’s
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about looking at nettles on plants, and, you know how they would hook on your sock. Well, this guy said, well, if I could duplicate that as a product, wow, what an idea. So there’s all kinds of ideas out there of looking at—at the way that nature produces its goods and services, and can we then begin to try to replicate those systems in our society. Now that’s the job for—for Alexander and Ethan, and—and your daughters and others to figure out in the future. But those are the kinds of things we can start thinking about and, you know, I’m very positive about that. And that’ll create a whole new economy about
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how we provide goods and services. So the—so the—for the public to start looking at that, there’s things people can do. I mean we go back to when people first started taking their blue bins out to the corner. We started recycling, there was a consciousness there, something I can do, okay? Well, now we’re at the point where you can do things—that, but you can also be smart about when you purchase a new automobile, thinking about buying a low—lower emitting cleaner car. When I produce—or purchase my electricity
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for my house, do I have an option on renewable, you know, purchasing a renewables option. Here in Austin we have the GreenChoice Program, and so you can subscribe to that. You have choices in the grocery store in terms of buying organic produce. It’s—in fact, it’s the fastest growing segment of the grocery industry is organic food products. You have important choices in housing. There are now systems out there that will evaluate energy efficient homes. The Energy Star programs are energy efficient, energy efficient appliances. Now I think the government has a strong role and say we want to set
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a standard so that if you’re going to build a house it needs to be this level of efficiency, or this level of water consumption. I think those are good signals the government can send and let the market figure out products to get there. And so it—the whole idea about sustainable consumption and production is looking at our systems—you know, our delivery systems of services and how we can be more efficient promoting more options for transportation. I used to be in a—I used to be a single occupant vehicle—SOV. And Denise and I used to carpool together through the agency. We actually met at the agency,
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and—and we’re married. And then after she became pregnant—became a stay-at-home mom, I lost my carpool buddy. So I tried a vanpool system, and I started using that. And I found that it actually increased my, you know, options for transportation. I could, you know, drive if I had to one day, I could take public transportation, and it opened up a whole new world to being able to get around the community in a different way, and just doing things—seeing things differently. So I think that having that diversity is really
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good in terms of your options as a consumer. The other thing I will just mention that’s happening as well that it’s kind of an interesting phenomenon whereby we have now markets that are driving environmental issues beyond what government has been able to do. For example, in the European Union there has been legislation panned that says that certain materials are going to be banned from—from computers, electronics equipment. It’s known as “the Ross Directive.” The WEEE and the Ross Directive. And there’s this whole emphasis on extended producer responsibility. So that if you’re producing a good,
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that you’re at—ultimately responsible for the end of life for that product, whether it be a car, or a refrigerator, or a stove, or whatever. And so you’re seeing now that the—those types of legislation that’s being put in are driving the market whereby say a Dell computer is going to build to one global standard for their computers. And so they’re going to build to that European standard globally. And so that’s going to—that improves the product, but it’s also interesting because it’s tied to an economic battle that’s going on as well as because the European Union wants to strengthen their economy. At the same
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time, you have China that also is putting these same kinds of—of—of drivers in to protect their interests in the future. But the interesting thing is that as they put these kinds of things in place, it’s driving products that are being made in the United States or elsewhere to a higher environmental standard. The government have never done that in the United States at this point. I don’t see it happening. So because now we’re in a global environment, you have something that happens in the U.K. is now driving U.S.
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companies to build products, because they want to build s—and sell those products in those markets. So I think it’s going to be interesting to watch those trends over time as—as—as you have regulatory functions of government, but you also have these markets that can be used to help drive environmental performance. And you’re also seeing more sectors, or more areas like accounting becoming greener, and looking at the way their ledgers and spreadsheets are handled in terms of how they handle internal costs for
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environment. Things like the environment have not really been part of the, you know, accounting system, and so, you know, accountants need to be trained about how do you factor in the full cost of environment into their operations through their whole accounting practices. Right now it’s an externalized cost. It’s just sort of like not even incorporated into the—the cost of doing business. And so, you know, we’re trying to deal with this on all levels, and across society, and trying to get that ki—that kind of thinking in—in—whether you’re a—attorney or a—an accountant. If you’re a doctor, think about your
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hospital and how—what environmental impacts does your hospital have on the—on the environment, how you better manage the way you go about the business of environment within your daily operation. So we’re trying to—to kind of mainstream the thinking so that—that it becomes just a common place. Kind of like our kids now where things like recycling or seatbelts, they don’t even think twice about it. It’s already just there. And so if we can get the environment to the same point then you’ve got all the sectors of society that at lest have environmental awareness and thinking in the way they go about their
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jobs and how they live and their lifestyle. And things like ecotourism are very popular now. And people want to do things that have some kind of social value to them, and there’s increasing, I think, awareness and sort of this spirituality about the way we go about our lives, and I think that the environment and stewardship sustainability is a—is a core ethic that all human beings want as part of their daily way they go about things. And so I think spirituality is another component of this that we haven’t even touched on, but it’s something to think about in terms of why we’re here, what we’re—what are we trying
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to accomplish as individuals and as a community. And so it’s been a great twenty years to be here in Texas. We’re now relocating to the Northwest, which is doing a lot of progressive things. And the neat thing about things now, because we are so connected electronically is that a really good idea in Olympia, Washington can be transmitted at the speed of light to Austin, Texas. And so we—there’s a lot more sharing of information going on. And so we can work really together more effectively, I think because I always make the argument in the wor—the field that I’ve been working in, is that there’s not
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enough of us to go around and so we—we need to continue to work together and bring together—we’re really building a network. We’re building a—a community of people that are interested in working on this, whether they work in industry or government, or the nonprofit sector because the really the new model in the future is—is all these groups working together, and you’re going to get a lot better result. And you may not agree on stuff all the time but, you know, it tends to point you in the right direction. And I found
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that the pollution prevention maste—waste minimization and sustainability really kind of bring people together, and people feel empowered that they can do things in a productive way about, you know, environmental protection. So, you know, I’m—I’m optimistic about the future, and—and I think…
DT: Let’s talk a little bit about the future. I guess part of the network is Alexander, Ethan, and you talk about how difficult it is and how slow it’s been to change people’s minds. And maybe the easier minds to change will be young people. What would you tell someone of their generation when they grow up, what are the lessons that you’ve learned that may apply well on their lives?
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KZ: Well, I would say study hard, and learn the foundations, learn about science, learn about the natural environment, be connected, you know. A lot of kids don’t go out—get to go out and play in the dirt, you know, and just have some time out in—out in nature. So it’s important to—to get outdoors, be outside, observe and listen. And I think that increasing our curriculum within the schools is important. And the way we go about teaching kids about science, I think we can improve that. But one of the things that might be useful is to—to learn from—from fables. If you go back and look at the way we used to teach our kids was based on stories and fables, and how we—and there’s always a story there. Even though—there was a message. And so, you know, maybe our education system looking at ways to get the message across can be done differently than maybe the
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ways—you know, traditional ways we’re approaching education sometimes.
DT: Like the Lorax?
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KZ: Like the Lorax, for example. That’s a good example that people could relate to in a story form, and there’s a message there, and that stays with you. You know, you—you read that book twenty years ago and you still remember the Lorax, right? And so I think that kids should think about—and I’m very concerned about the kids because of the focus on consumption so much by industry and others that the environmental message gets pushed to the side sometimes—a lot really right now. And so I’m very concerned that these kids aren’t getting a message about sustainable consumption and production. So far
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I think the challenge is to think about for the kids out there is if you’re going to design a campaign, public education campaign on how to make sustainability cool, how would you do that? So the challenge is can you make sustainability cool in a way that kids jump on board and made it—want to make it happen so that the environment is cool as having a new iPod or the latest digital phone, or if you’re going to buy that digital phone, that it’s a green phone. So, you know be creative, and think of ways—different ways to do things. I’m—I’ve been amazed by just watching our kids grow up, and they—they’ll take something a lit—a cell phone or something else and come up with a completely new use that really wasn’t envisioned. So, you know, that creativity is out there, and these—these
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kids are smart. They’re going to figure it out. The only—the concern I have maybe is that, you know, I’ve been working on this for twenty years, and—and it’s—we’re still working on it, and by the time Alexander and Ethan get to my age they’ll still be working on these issues. So I’m—I’m hopeful though, and—but the pace does seem to be a bit slow, and I’m—I’m in—a bit impatient because, you know, I got out of school twenty years ago with a degree at c—in Environmental Management, and I feel like we’re just starting now to scratch the surface on that. We’re still—still learning, and—and still—
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and there’s a lot to be done out there that but so, you know, study hard, learn the periodic table, elm—learn the basic elements of science, and—and about other cultures, and respect other people. And that’s kind of the—kind of the name of the game. Otherwise, everything will take care of itself, I think.
DT: Well, thanks. I appreciate your time.
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KZ: Well, thanks for the opportunity. I think it’s a great project what you’re doing, and keep up the good work. And we’ll talk to you soon.
DT: Happy trails.
[End of Reel 2323]
[End of Interview with Ken Zarker]