javascript:; Honestly, Does Your Community Have What It Takes? | Coal Tar Free America

Through a variety of projects, I have been thinking a lot about batteries lately. Yes we have Tesla's new home battery announcement, Powerwall, but my projects are quite a bit less grand or expensive.

It got me wondering how a ban of coal tar pavement sealers is like stringing a bunch of batteries together to get enough juice out of them to get something done. The power necessary doesn't require a maximum amount in all the categories listed above, but a dead or low output in any one could be the end of the effort. Conversely, a lot of power from a few areas may supply the power needed.

As a student of this movement for a decade, some patterns have begun to emerge in my mind. Let's take a look at what might be helpful to those thinking about going for a ban.

If you're waiting for Superman to come and save the day on this, then you may be waiting a long time. So it's time to get these done at the local and regional level until federal action is taken.

Citizen Discontent

While not mandatory in all circumstances, a knowledgeable citizenry can raise the expectations the community, non-profits and legislative sponsors. Conversely it is rare for a politician to pursue legislation without the backing of the public. Legislators have told me that bills have died due to the lack of citizen interest. Put another way, what are the consequences for an elected official if they don't pass a ban?

In Austin, for example, it sure helped that the issue of high PAH in streams was in the headlines for months and coal tar sealers were found to be responsible for contaminating the waterways near the City's iconic natural swimming pool. The ban passed unanimously with little debate from the council.

Supporting Research

The good news here is that the research on this product for the last ten years has resulted in a rock solid understanding of this problem. There is more than enough data and understanding to end the use of the coal tar sealers. The sufficiency of this data can make up for deficits in other areas, but it isn't enough to overcome major deficiencies in other categories.

Not convinced? Then spend a little time reading the science or at least summaries about it here.

Industry Activism

Industry involvement usually tests the resolve of an elected official. The sealer industry aligns with typical mantras that can scare off the uncommitted liberal or conservative with fear tactics like "anti-union" or "anti-business." With sufficient citizen discontent and non-profit support, this can be overcome by a modicum of political resolve.

There are a lot of examples where industry has scared off politicians, but Maryland's legislative run up to a ban was classic.

Community Circumstances 

What is currently happening in a community can either support or detract from passing a coal tar sealer ban. Are there major issues which are consuming the attention of the elected officials beyond their capacity to take on something else? Those can be numerous from schools to services, or personnel to projects.

Or perhaps a catalyzing event which rallies the community. Boone, NC illustrates this point. They went from not knowing anything about coal tar sealers on one day, to a well-documented fish kill the next, and coal tar sealer regulations 6 months later.

Also, does your town have a reputation of innovation or leadership or do they wait to be told by others what to do? Followers or Leaders? Leaders will see that a ban just demonstrates what they know about themselves: they respond independently and lead their community. Followers fear what others will think and are often paralyzed from action.

Non-Profit Support

These last two areas are key. Without overwhelmingly strong support in one of these two areas a ban effort will not be successful.

This area is a core need under most circumstances. What organization, with a core group of supporters, is going to actively back your local ban effort? Will the constituency be mobilized or will is the organization just hitching a ride hoping for a little publicity along the way?

And a word about this site. Coal Tar Free America cannot supply the kind of effort necessary to fill this gap of non-profit support. Ideally we are a resource for the community, decision-makers and non-profits.

Sponsor Attention

This last area is key. A sponsor must believe in the mission at hand and own it. Rarely do these efforts just glide on through the legislative process. Just like any bill or ordinance, these efforts require a lot of groundwork before introduction and consensus building among fellow elected officials.

Passing a ban of coal tar pavement sealers is very much like is commonly said in the design industry: it takes a lot more than a good idea to have a good project. Yes it takes time, planning, attention to detail, and a lot of coordination.

Don't be discouraged if you don't have all the power in your community lined up to pass a ban. Look for opportunities to prepare your community for a ban as we outlined here. And be sure to let us know anyway we can help.

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