Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin
If you have it on your playlist, you may wish to cue up The Three Stooges theme song before you read any further.
While we will not be honoring the memory of Moe, Larry and Curly in this column, we will be discussing the exploits of three Illinois politicians who make the legendary comedic trio look like Mensa candidates by way of comparison. We’re talking about the comedy troupe of Jim, Johnny and Mazzy, otherwise known as Jim Durkin, John Curran and Deanne Mazzochi, each of whom are members of the Illinois General Assembly, claim to be Republicans and who have, in my professional opinion, earned nomination for the “Most Self-Serving and/or Deliberately Stupid Person Serving in Public Office in Illinois” award for 2019.
What did the trio do to earn this honor? They attached themselves to a mean-spirited, dishonest and thoroughly unscientific campaign to smear a company legitimately and legally doing business in the state of Illinois: Sterigenics. They thus aided and abetted the 21st Century version of vigilante justice in place of the rule of law. Let us count the ways:
1) The stooges accept the premise that Sterigenics has presented a unique health risk to its host community. They do so not based on actual data or EPA research, but on Chicago Tribune reporter Michael Hawthorne’s personal interpretation of available data and EPA research. The fact is, Hawthorne applied a microscope to Sterigenics' operations. Should he or anyone else choose to apply the same degree of magnification to virtually any other facility in the state of Illinois that emits toxic compounds – and we're talking tens of thousands of facilities – he could reach the same apparently terrifying conclusions. One must thus assume that the stooges will follow wherever Hawthorne chooses to lead in the future.
2) The stooges appear to be blissfully unaware of the number of sources emitting a plethora of potentially toxic and/or carcinogenic air pollutants in the state of Illinois, in the United States of America and throughout the world. A partial list of the potentially toxic and/or carcinogenic compounds emitted just in DuPage County, according to the last National Emissions Inventory, does not include potentially toxic and/or carcinogenic air pollutants emitted by mobile sources, natural sources and other (area) sources. Include those and the numbers jump up dramatically. When one soberly compares the ethylene oxide emissions emitted and to be emitted by Sterigenics to all the rest – just in this single county – it boggles the mind that any reasonable, reasonably intelligent resident of planet Earth would target this particular facility as Public Enemy #1.
3) The stooges seem to be willing to completely abandon the rule of law (part 1): “It’s troubling that they’re in a rush to lock into the settlement agreement that, number one, Sterigenics admits no fault or wrongdoing when there is evidence contrary to that,” Curran is quoted as saying. Hey, Einstein, here’s the compact that industry enters into whenever they choose to do business in your state: A) the state makes the rules, and B) the company agrees to abide by those rules. Sterigenics fulfilled Part B of that compact. Nobody accused them of violating permit conditions, because they didn’t. Nobody accused them of violating underlying rules or exceeding allowable emissions limits, because they didn’t. “Fault” is not legally defined as becoming Michael Hawthorne’s target-of-the-day because his tree-hugger buddies tossed their favorite lap-dog a new treat.
4) The stooges seem to be willing to completely abandon the rule of law (part 2): “They (Sterigenics) don’t deserve the any convenient path to begin operations again,” Durkin is quoted as saying. Really? Complying with permit conditions and applicable regulation is not a convenient path to begin operations? How about the only path? How about the lawful and protected path? You call yourself a Republican? Jimmy boy, if you don’t like the law or the underlying rules, then use your position to change them. If you prefer instead to posture and preen, step across the aisle. The party of Lincoln doesn’t need another shallow blowhard like you.
The simple truth is, had Illinois pursued legal action against Sterigenics, the state was destined to spend millions of taxpayer dollars in a losing cause. Collecting fines for violation of the law or regulations requires proof of actual violations. The state had no case. None. Nada. Zippo. Zilch. Pursuing this case would be like accusing a motorist of reckless driving for doing 30 mph in a 35 mph zone on the grounds that the speed limit should have properly been set at 20 mph.
I’m no fan of Gov. Pritzker or Attorney General Raoul, but they made the right decision in this case. It was, clearly, the only decision they could make without exposing the people of the state of Illinois to pointless financial liability and simultaneously undermining the rule of law.
Richard J. Trzupek is a chemist who has been employed as an environmental consultant to industry for more than 25 years. He specializes in air quality issues, has worked for several Fortune 500 companies, has participated in the development of environmental legislation and regulation and is currently principal consultant at Trinity Consultants based in Oakbrook Terrace.