Old Cranky brings to our attention a Vermillion Plain Talk report about a new assessment of the proposed Hyperion oil refinery in Union County. The assessors: a team of undergrads from the University of South Dakota. The assessment: on four out of five criteria, a big oil refinery near Elk Point is not a sustainable project.
The students are part of IDEA 410, a capstone course in USD's Interdisciplinary Education and Action program. Various sections of the course tackle various issues. This section—titled "Wall Street & Ethics: Do Social Justice, Community, and Sustainability Cost Too Much?"— is apparently taught by USD School of Business Professor Gregory M. Huckabee. And if he can get his kids to do research like this, then I do indeed heart Huckabee!
The students analyzed the Hyperion refinery proposal through a framework of criteria presented in Jared Diamond's Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. Writes VPT's David Lias:
Diamond believes that societies can be determined to be sustainable, or not, by applying five criteria to specific circumstances. These criteria are: environmental damage, climate change, loss of friendly contacts, rise of hostile contacts, and political, economic, social and cultural setting.
The students told aldermen that only the final criteria – political, economic, social and cultural setting – could be deemed sustainable [David Lias, "USD Students: Hyperion Is Not Sustainable," Vermillion Plain Talk, 2009.12.11].
The students identify various problems like the 9 to 12 million gallons of water the refinery would slurp out of everyone's milkshake daily and the 19.6 million tons of pollutants the refinery would belch out in return each year.
The USD students noted in their presentation that some individuals, including Gov. Mike Rounds, argue the emissions from this plant will only be 32 percent of what is currently emitted from Sioux Falls [Lias, 2009.12.11].
The Governor said that? Really?! Hang on, kids: five points off for botching the numbers. According to the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources (which, interestingly, actually uses exclamation points to explain itself in this Q&A sheet on Hyperion), the proposed refinery would emit a mass of air pollutants equal to 7% of the pollution emitted by everyone in Minnehaha County.
While the kids sign up for spreadsheet lessons, I still would like to ask: since when is it o.k. for one person (and remember, under our twisted laws, a corporation like Hyperion is a "person") to emit as much air pollution as nearly 13,000 people?
Now I think I hear the indigestion burbling up from my conservative friends: bad enough the kids can't run Excel, but they take classes at a public university to promote their liberal tree-hugging (well, cornfield-hugging) agenda? When my conservative friends read the theme of the interdisciplinary program—"Liberal Learning: Students in a Global Community"—they'll lob all sorts of New World Order critiques.
I do find it interesting that these students giving Hyperion a studious thumbs-down are the business school kids. (The hippies at USD are all in theater, right? ;-) ) They didn't just look at the immediate short-term profit; they took the long view, all the way to the boreal forest that has to be torn down and the ducks that get killed to get at the tar sands oil Hyperion would process, the dirtiest oil in the world. Even USD B-school students can recognize that oil like that isn't worth the trouble.