Capitalize the Profits, Socialize the Losses

We sure do have a way of making the news lately. On Tuesday, May 19th, both the Edenville and Sanford dams were breached- Edenville via a collapse and Sanford via flooding over the top of the structure. Over 10,000 people from the Midland, MI area had been evacuated with many homes lost due to historic flood waters. 

Let’s go through the situation with the Edenville Dam, which is owned by Boyce Hydro, but in the process of being transferred to a municipal entity called the Four Lakes Task Force (chaired by a former Dow Chemical Executive). In the time Boyce has owned Edenville Dam beginning in 2004, they have consistently skirted and ignored regulations required for their license to generate power and thus profit. 

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) recently issued a report of the dam. It did not go well. 

According to the report

Since acquiring the project in 2004, Boyce has repeatedly failed to comply with requests by the Regional Engineer and other Commission staff to develop and implement plans and schedules to address the fact that the project spillways are not adequate to pass the probable maximum flood, thereby creating a grave danger to the public.

The report continues (bold is mine): 

In addition, Boyce has engaged in unauthorized construction and earth-moving without obtaining the approval of the Chicago Regional Engineer, has failed to file and implement a public safety plan necessary to protect recreational users of project facilities, has failed to construct required recreation facilities and improperly restricted public access to project lands and waters, has not retained ownership interests in project lands necessary to ensure that it can comply with Commission requirements, and has failed to comply with the project’s water quality monitoring plan. Commission staff has had repeated discussions with the licensee and has issued numerous orders requiring compliance, to no avail

FERC then issued another compliance order in 2017 based off their failure to comply with previous orders, to which Boyce predictably “did not come into compliance”. Next year, in 2018, the FERC revoked Boyce’s license to generate power from the dam. 

A year later in 2019, Boyce agreed to sell Edenville Dam to the Four Lakes Task Force for $9.4 million. Four Lakes has, to its credit, invested $300,000 into repairs and upgrades with another $2 million originally planned next winter that have been raised from community members. But apparently, the repairs didn’t come quickly enough. The community is left, as usual, to pay for the costs of this failure while Boyce continues to chase private profits. 

Mask Off

Crises like these can have a way of stripping off veneers of delusion, allowing us to more clearly see reality than we did before. Case in point: the bait and switch of deregulation. We’ve been trained to loathe even the word regulation- it sounds overbearing and unnecessary. But the reality is environmental regulations and the agencies that enforce them are vital to, in this case…not have your home flooded or destroyed. And when we skimp on these regulations as a result of a culture loathe to accept regulations, we get burned over and over again. 

We can already tell that corporate entities and big businesses own the country. Our economic system of capitalist production requires businesses to skirt laws and regulations to the limit they can get away with it. If a given company chooses to abide by a regulation and a competitor chooses to take the risk by violating it, that competitor is now at a competitive advantage and stands to make more profit, which is the only aim of business. 

A cruel irony for corporate entities in this case is that they do, in fact, still have to reside in the world they are strangling to death for next quarter’s profit margins. The problem? Their only objective as a business requires them to not learn this lesson. 

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