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DNREC Secretary Collin O’Mara

(The following is a talk given by Mr. O’Mara at the second Wilmington WIT on October 24, 2010.)

I am interested in the intersection of environmental policy with its regulations and economic policy.  I am interested in matching resources to needs.  DNREC has long been concerned with southern Delaware.  It is time for it to seek cooperation with New Castle County.  Up until recently DNREC has only been concerned with air and parks in New Castle County.  I made the decision to live in Wilmington.

Smarter growth is more sustainable growth.  We need to go back to the future, such as in Trolley Square.    We need to localize and regrow prosperity from the bottom up.  Cities need to be clean, safe and green.  Cities are more prosperous if they are involved in sustainable mass transportation.  Then people reinvest their transportation savings into the cities.  There is more resiliency of small businesses, more local support for businesses.

Renewable energy creates more energy efficiency and air quality improves.  There is the possibility of local jobs in retrofitting, etc.  Market demand is created with the right incentives.  We can do this further up the value chain of products used.  We can localize supplies.  There is a solar panel manufacturing plant in Newark, for instance, which has grown 2-1/2 times due to Governor Markell’s policies.  We need to give local people a call first.  The need for efficiency creates the opportunity to buy local.

Think about jobs; we often focus on the climate.  Both Americans and Chinese think climate and energy are four-letter words.  The Chinese think the word is JOBS; Americans think it is JOKE.  Look at the transfer of wealth overseas for the last 40 years.  Soon we will be consumers only.  We need to try to figure out micro-economic models.  We need to look at every opportunity to clean up and renew.

Ground water may be scarce.  For 30 years we have had serious questions about storm water.  We talk about waste water and industrial plants: the state controls these.  But storm water feeds into our water supply and may spread bacteria and toxic elements.  There could be benefits from community gardens and storm water gardens.

But jobs are important.  Climate control creates job opportunities.  Water utilities have been innovative.  Solar power is used at waste water plants.  I tout the success in recycling rates in Wilmington.  Wilmington can be a model for the state.  Folks are concerned with clean energy, clean water, the habitat and native plants.  We can build a base for a cleaner, greener city.  We need to figure out the overlaps.

Several problems seem to be intractable.  The 4 C’s of Delaware industries are Cars, Credit Cards, Chemical and Chickens.  We need to make sure as we put the emphasis on energy that we match supply and demand.

Water quality is a concern.  Our sea level is rising, which strains our resiliency.  There is a resulting $10-15 million of property damage each year.  A lot of tough decisions had been delayed.  Unit 3 at Indian River had to be shut down, because it messed with the biosphere.  There was a combustion problem and fish were killed.  In Edgemoor there were coal-polluting units.  They are now running on natural gas.  In Claymont the refinery has been forced to reduce its pollution through legally binding action (not negotiations).

We are going to cleaner energy supplies in the mid-Atlantic and putting the big pieces in place.  We are figuring out how they serve us and fit with use.  The Horticulture Society has implemented a storm water solution that can be replicated.  There are urban gardening projects implemented by kids.  Also, more products can be sold state-wide.

We need to think beyond what the individual and local community can do.  You need to have a bigger voice in statewide government.  New Castle County does not participate in the statewide debates.  There are positive reasons to do something.  It is easier to rally against something.  You need to mobilize around positive solutions.  We can have a vibrant local community that creates opportunity.   We need to figure out what are the tangible parts and where we need support.  The environmental solutions can unlock the problems of crime and jobs, both of which are created by lack of opportunity.