The Parable of the Talents

In the Book of Matthew, Jesus tells the Parable of the Talents: About a wealthy man who, before going on a journey, gave three of his servants money (talents) to manage. Two of his servants, during his absence, handled the money well. And, when he returned, they were rewarded.

The third servant did not do so well. In fact, he did nothing. So the talents he’d been given were taken from him and given to one of the other servants.

What does that have to do with politics?

For the last couple of months, the people in Wilmington have been troubled by the news that their drinking water has contained a hazardous chemical called GenX.

How GenX ended up in the Cape Fear River is an unusual story.

A Dupont-Chemours plant near Fayetteville manufactured GenX to sell, but it was not allowed to dump any of that GenX into the river. Instead, it was required to haul it away to facilities in Arkansas or Ohio to be incinerated.

So far, so good.

However, another part of the same Dupont-Chemours plant was creating GenX not to sell but as a waste byproduct of another industrial process. Apparently, or at least the way Dupont-Chemours saw it, there was no prohibition on it dumping that GenX into the Cape Fear River. So it did. Until somebody at the Wilmington Water Authority asked, What is going on here?

So far, the discovery of GenX in Wilmington’s water has raised more questions than answers: Who knew? What did they know? When did they know it? Did they disclose it?

The NC Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is entrusted with a budget of $228 million a year to protect our environment – including our drinking water. And it has the legal power to regulate or prohibit industrial dumping of hazardous chemicals.

But, in this case, it didn’t. Why not?

So far, DEQ’s explanations have been murky. And, at times, contradictory. For instance, in June the department announced it had stopped all GenX dumping. But then, two weeks later, it announced it had discovered a new GenX discharge into the river.

Finding out what happened may take a while, so I was not expecting all the answers when I watched the Governor, along with his top administrators, speak at their press conference in Wilmington. But there was a surprise: DEQ did not sound all that contrite. It didn’t say it had made mistakes. Instead, it said it needed more money. That its $228 million budget wasn’t enough.

I guess that’s possible. But it may also be that – as in the Parable of the Talents – the people who were given $228 million to spend to protect the environment haven’t done a very good job.

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