USA Today Headline: USA invests in Mexico's Environment

Here's the story according to this morning's USA Today (which I'm reading from a Charlotte NC airport hotel room.... left Vermont for Arkansas at 6AM.  Yesterday.  Arrggh.)

The article is about the USA and Mexican governments cooperating to clean up pollution on the border.
  • What about a proposal to take a brownfield factory in Mexico, a couple dozen kilometers from the western hemisphere's most modern copper smelter, getting a purchase order for 3000 tons of CRT glass from the smelter, getting the engineering reports from similar fluxing agent processes importing USA CRT glass in fellow NAFTA Canada?
  • How about using the maquila system for disassembly in Mexico for TVs which was used in the 1990s for assembling most TVs sold in the USA, assembled in Mexico?
  • How about achieving the highest reuse rates in the e-waste industry, using Latin America's analog TV broadcast standards (the same TV system USA just replaced with digital)?
  • How about bringing the CEO of an R2 qualified CRT monitor assembly company to co-invest in the operation, moving CRT refurbishing closer to the source of CRTs and eliminating the cross-ocean traffic?
  • How about even getting conditional agreement from that Mexico is OECD and this is a great idea?
  • How about finally addressing the concerns about "downcycling" by giving $5 off on every new TV sold if an old piece of e-waste from within Mexico is brought in return?  A cash-for-clunkers program for e-waste?
  • How about creating jobs for Mexicans, who are most of the staff in USA recycling plants, IN MEXICO?
  • How about addressing concerns about maquiladora treatment of women in Mexico by creating a maquiladora owned and operated by a women's collective?

  • How about having the project run by a former Peace Corps volunteer and regulator expert with an international relations degree?


Would you then mysteriously go silent and then send a letter 9 months after the award letter saying you have concerns about the project, but not meet with us to allow us to address concerns?

Would you leave emails and calls unanswered?

And having given the adminstrative consent order in 2009 and the grant award in 2009, would you walk away from the CRTs the women collected, neither funding the closure of the plant nor the maintenance of the plant?  You'd just tell them to expect the money, let the goods pass, then say no money no conditions nothing?

Just fund us and close us down.  You can continue the grant with a condition that we clean up, close shop, and leave. 

Ii understand that EPA neither wants to be blamed for killing the great ideas above, because they admit they are great ideas and even gave us a grant to pursue them, nor wants to be accused of exporting e-waste.  So they issue a letter creating a kind of limbo...

On review, they say, there is no evidence that the facility can repair or refurbish TVs, only take them apart.  Ahem, the project clearly names 2 techs who repair and refurbish computers, and a USA partner who is in charge of distributing and supporting them.  The TVs practically all work, Americans are replacing them with flat screens, how much technical skill does it take to plug it in and turn it on?   And guess what?  In the interim 9 months, we DID already distribute the refurbished PCs.  How about that?  But more to the point - EPA NEVER ASKED.   It is statea reason to reverse the grant, but you never once asked the question.  Now guess what, you have raised a question whether we are capable of doing something we already did.

Mexico's EPA (SEMARNAT) has some share of blame here, but the grant reversal, according to our Mexican counterparts, was directed to EPA Region IX by an enforcement officer in Washington DC.  

EPA in Washington knows how to reach me if they have a question.  I know RCRA and know the difference between TVs, monitors, cullet, and CRTs.  We did not break or process CRTs for disposal, we clearly identified the process to be used if the breaking permit was not in place (ship whole CRTs to Dlubak or TDM, bring commodity cullet back to the smelter).  We have a process for removing CRTs with cadmium.  I know what I'm doing.  I am not breaking any import laws. 

We see a complete lack of communication from EPA in the Border 2012 Grant program.  And that is the dynamic you create when an NGO attracts press attention by attacking the people we thought we could trust:

- The EPA
- The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development
- WR3A
- Responsible Recyclers (R2)

I ran an $8M per year grant program inside a government agency for several years, I completely understand these dynamics.  BAN has attacked all the trusted people, and employees in government tend to be risk-averse.  By attracting press attention to the "man bites dog" stories of "exposing" recycling, BAN has succeeded in drawing national attention to a rather obscure international treaty, one which few people have read or understand.  This has created tremendous power for BAN, as the "ayatollah" interpreting the Basel Convention to people who haven't read it.  Through E-Stewards, BAN is actually trying to capitalize on that momentum monetarily, which may be their downfall.

EPA's grant agency goes on with three other objections, one of which is whether the USA can legally import dismantled scrap from Mexico back into the USA.   WOW.  The maquila requires us to reimport to USA generated material to the USA, and the USA does not require a permit to import Mexican commodity material back into the USA, and during the 9 months no one from EPA ever asked the question.  The USA does not issue permits to reimport scrap (all of which we deliver to places like SIMS, beyond reproach).   The fact we stipulated several legal entities in the grant demonstrates we know what can be done as a mqauila and what needs to be done by one of the other entities, e.g. the USA scrap company.

There are 2 more questions raised in the correspondence reversing the grant decision..  But the point is that there was never a question asked during the 9 months they have had the application.  The letter is clearly trying to find a way to say "no", and clearly the writer is afraid that if they ask the question, we may have an answer requiring them to say yes.  The letter is written to remove the yes, saying information was not provided which either was provided, is not necessary, or was never asked for.

And wonders why I get so angry at them?   The panic and fear of giving a grant to a group of Mexican women who want to clean up the CRTs in their depressed area of Mexico is BAN's legacy.  CA SB20 creates a rule breaking all the good equipment, EPA issues permits and take them away, issues grant announcements and take them away.  The watchdog that barks at everybody is freezing any good trade between anybody, from Samsung glass to SKD factories to the United Nations.  It is a logjam of BAN's creation, and the press has been too lazy to undo the harm.

This is a story which demands that a few people stand up and stop the McCarthy campaign against recycling.  The worse recycling is environmentally superior to the best mining.   We need to reform it, we need to monitor it, we need to stop disposal along for the ride, we need to expose sham recycling practices.

Michael Rey of CBS News interviewed me for over an hour.  Solly Granatstein texted me the night the CBS 60 Minutes story aired.   They got an award for a CBS 60 Minutes story which circled CRT monitors in Hong Kong and then told the world they went to Guiyu.  They were told before the story and afterwards that the monitors went to a CRT monitor re-manufacturing factory, like the Guangdong factory pictured to the left, one that originally made the monitors.  CBS was told they would not see a CRT in Guiyu.  They were given pictures, but allowed Scott Pelley to hold up a piece of plastic in Guiyu and call it proof of CRT recycling, and to film a tiny metal scrap shop and call it an example of a modern facility.  

They did not see CRTs in Guiyu.  The CRTs go to the factory .  Jim Puckett at the Interpol meeting confirmed when asked that they did not see any evidence of the monitors they circled with 60 Minutes in Guiyu.

Now because 60 Minutes has neglected to set the story straight or to revisit it, EPA is afraid to fund the grant to clean up CRTs in Mexico. The most interested investor from Investors Circle, Josh Mailman, also dropped the project after discussing it with BAN (though BAN insists they had nothing to do with it).  Malaysia DOE stopped Samsung Corning from using recycled cullet, though Samsung still buys virgin material mined from Malaysian coral reefs.

Who is trying to do something?  Who is actually trying to do something?  I cannot believe the number of years it is taking to get this Retroworks de Mexico started.   Obviously, it is important for the CEO of a company like mine to channel his impatience and avoid throwing stones at EPA's house.   What is needed is for MIT, ASU, RIT, Middlebury College, Dartmouth College, etc. to collect data and use their base of native language exchange students to verify the story of American Retroworks Inc., identify improvements required, and to fund the proper recycling in all nations without becoming a tool of the AGMA (Anti Gray Market Alliance) to destroy repairable equipment or to exercise "planned obsolescence in hindsight".

The R2 (Responsible Recycler) practice at least recognizes that it is POSSIBLE for someone in another country to run a certified factory, and requires such a factory be certified.   I have shown that Africans can do it in Vermont and Mexicans can do it in Vermont and Americans can turn screws in Mexico.  Everyone else, from EPA to BAN to SEMARNAT ignores the question of whether such a factory CAN exist and ironically destroy the investment and funding, through shredding material prior to export or by raising rhetorical questions to cut funding.  They kill the funding to make the good factory exist.

I keep this blog not because "E-waste" or electronics scrap is the most important issue in the world.  All of us  are guilty of exaggerating the importance of this business when metal mining releases 45% of all toxics released by all USA industry.   I'm fascinated to tell this story in part because it is a textbook case of well meaning people trying to cover their asses, from BAN to EPA to SEMARNAT to CBS News.  I think this is a human condition that must exist in other realms.  If we are truly to make environmentalism an ethical and moral field, we must go through the same philosophical self-analysis that St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, who blended Christian faith with Greek study of logic and truth.  

NGOs and governments and journalists basically allow young people to believe that their job is about getting selfish businesspeople to admit their mistakes, and to expose the mistakes they made.  They have made the truth the source of their moral and ethical authority.

In this case, through the blog, I am exposing everything I do.  I am most critical of the absence of dialectic from BAN, subtle implied requests (without actually asking) from EPA, and no follow-up from CBS News.  I film what I do.  I write detailed letters explaining the chain of custody of material that is legally imported into Mexico for disassembly and then can be either legally recycled as a commodity (if we have permit to break and process it, which is what is held up), OR left intact to re-transit to another legal place.  We have intact tubes in Mexico because we follow to the letter the proposals we submitted and the legal constraints on our operation. 

The pius is the enemy of the good.  I'm going to make a movie or a novel about this. The trick, my dad says, is to take your cause very seriously without taking yourself too seriously.  For most people, a blog like this violates the latter directive (and the latter directive can result in some very, very bad writing).  I am personally disappointed by the City of Tucson RFP award, the Investors Circle promotion, and EPA Border 2012 Grant experiences.  They were all great proposals, and all three resulted in initial awards followed by fearful backtracking.

The perfect continues to be the enemy of the good.  The Church of Environmentalism exposes itself to the same pius infections, ass covering, denial, double talk, and hypocrisy that Nathanial Hawthorne wrote about in Scarlett Letter and Mark Twain exposed in Huckleberry Finn.   If I can manage to write in a way which influences the discussion and blending of ecology and truth in the same way past heroes have exposed theology to truth, I may pull off the hat trick of loving my job for environmental, world travel, and philosophical reasons.   I can't quite tell people the secret of pulling off a career like mine, but it's the best man.  It totally rocks.  And it's a more interesting story thanks to the bad play of the enviros and journalists who simply create the same challenges for me that Huck Fiinn and Hester Prynne met.

Ok, that's sounding more like taking yourself too seriously again.  But if you are under the age of 30 and wonder if it's possible to have the perfect career, I'd say yes, and you can do more by being completely truthful than you can be by compromsing the truth.

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