Thursday, May 22, 2014


It’s a real treat when our citizens come out in numbers and with passion in the defense of one of our rights, just as they did – and still do – with the SAFE Act. The backlash didn’t stop in the weeks that followed the act’s passage in January of 2013. A year and a half later, rallies are still being held and a more personal and intimate brand of activism – the Anti-SAFE Act lawn sign – still remains undeniably common throughout Western New York.

Despite all of those efforts, the activists may not be as sincere as they put on. All of them to a man consistently highlight the importance of the Constitution; our formative document takes center stage in all debates associated with the SAFE Act. Even those folks with just a passing interest in the Constitution can cite verbatim the entire Second Amendment. But that is where their constitutionalism seems to begin and end.

If the Constitution is really that important to tens of thousands of New Yorkers, then where is the uproar when our other rights are infringed?

I’ve heard nary a peep and not seen one lawn sign or bumper sticker expressing disdain – and there should be lots of it – over the federal government’s elaborate domestic spying programs that were brought to light by Edward Snowden. It sometimes seem that no one, other than the press, cares about high-volume eavesdropping on cell phones, maintenance of phone records, scanning of email messages, and other surveillance endeavors against suspected terrorists and innocent Americans alike, tactics that are all in defiance of the Fourth Amendment and could be argued are far worse transgressions than anything that the SAFE Act has done (and that’s saying a lot).

To see this constitutional selectivity perfectly played out in the form of one high-profile individual just look south across the county border.

Erie County Sheriff Tim Howard has gained notoriety and accolades for his stance against the SAFE Act and its un-constitutionalism. Last year, he went so far as to say his officers won’t enforce that law.

Despite his care for the Second Amendment, his obviously doesn’t give a hoot about the Fourth.  For years his department has utilized cell phone spying devices known as Stingray and Kingfish. The equipment indiscriminately intercepts cell phone transmissions and can capture and eavesdrop on conversations and text exchanges. These are activities that need a warrant (which the Sheriff’s Department lacks) and pinpoint accuracy (Howard has admitted to the press that they tune across multiple transmissions to find the one they want). 

Despite this patently obvious abuse of the Fourth Amendment, Howard still remains something of a constitutional folk hero.

Taking into consideration what’s happening at the federal and local levels, Americans should be storming the Bastille over such transgressions. But we’re not. We’re not even raising a minor stink. Most of us might not even care.

And that’s what makes America so easily manipulated by the politicians. The politicians know that most folks are single-issue voters and if they can tug at something near and dear to them – guns for example – they can turn that focused passion into a vote.

We shouldn’t be that way. We should be fighting for every part of the Constitution, not just one. No part is more important than another. The entire document carries meaning, weight and importance: The Constitution and the Bill of Rights were devised as a set of laws to recognize and protect some of the most basic of natural rights while creating a framework for just governance.
If we spend too much time and effort focusing on just one part of the Bill of Rights, we could lose our rights to free speech, self defense, privacy, due process of law and self government just by being too selective or self-centered in our needs.

Continue to fight for our rights…but fight for all of them.

Friday, May 16, 2014


It’s not often that you’ll find me celebrating the loss of an economic development project that would have created 200 jobs in Western New York. But, I did just that a few weeks ago when a deal to bring a Toronto-based plastics manufacturer to the Buffalo waterfront fell through at the eleventh hour.

That company would have been in direct competition with mine. Even though news reports identified them as a “furniture manufacturer” – which they are – they also produce products that we do like kayaks and spa cabinets.

As a free market capitalist I typically welcome competition. But I don’t when competitors, especially those new to a region we’ve called home for 40-plus years, are given special privilege by the government. To bait the Canadians, the Cuomo Administration and the NFTA would have given them, among other incentives, $2 million in Excelsior tax credits, a sweet deal on publically-owned real estate, and 3.7 megawatts of cheap electricity produced by the New York Power Authority.

It’s that last item that struck me as the most offensive. Long-time readers of this column know that my company has attempted time and again to acquire cheap electricity (to no avail) in hopes of decreasing our third largest cost of doing business. Compared to other plastics manufacturers across the United States, we pay twice what they do for electricity – even though the mighty Niagara River flows in front of our plant.

Had the Canadians pulled the trigger on the NFTA’s real estate offer, the State would have enabled our competitor to produce the same products we do with power at less than one half the cost of ours, all while operating in what’s basically our backyard. It would have been disastrous to the 170 families that I work with as we would have lost clients to the local and cheaper alternative. While the region might have gained 200 jobs from the new company, it could have lost half as many due to disadvantageous competitive factors that were of the governments doing.

This sort of economic cannibalism, in which economic developers sacrifice their own to bring in the next big deal, is not unique to Confer Plastics.

Consider everything state officials did to bring silicone and chip manufacturer GlobalFoundries to the town of Malta. In 2008-2009, at the height of the Great Recession and while the state was facing a $15 billion budget gap, New York officials brokered a $1.3 billion incentive package for them, of which $650 million was cold hard cash.

This gave them a distinct advantage over other New York-based plants and it put the burden of funding the deal on New York taxpayers and businesses across all sectors who were attempting to survive not only the recession, but decades of malaise in New York. While GlobalFoundries grew, it was done on the backs of others.     

Also ponder what’s brokered at the local level across the state, where over the past 20 years we’ve seen a stark transformation of Industrial Development Agencies. Originally created in the late-1960s to ease the tax and regulatory burden on manufacturers (hence the “industrial” moniker) who compete across state lines and need help to stay competitive with the Ohios and Chinas of the world, the 113 IDAs have deviated from their original intent and now grant, in volume, tax breaks to retail projects (automotive lots, hotels, malls and more) who aren’t competing out-of-state, but instead are competing directly with businesses in their neighborhoods and nearby towns and cities.

The direct outcomes of those practices are two-fold. First, well-established retailers and hotels lose clients (and therefore revenues and employees) because their costs to do business (sales taxes, property taxes) are much higher than the competitors granted favor. Secondly, neighboring counties end up stealing companies and/or jobs from one another and never really create them when looked at from a regional standpoint.

You can certainly appreciate some of the efforts and intent of economic development officials (most want to make the economy in their community, region or state better), but they tend to be a little overzealous at times. That can be dangerous, because that ends up cannibalizing jobs in one place to make jobs in another. In that case, economic value isn’t created, it’s only shifted -- at the whim of government.

To make economic development work properly they need to drop the blinders and parochialism and approach things with a collective or regional view and ask two critical questions: Who wins? Who loses? They’d be surprised by the answers.   

Tuesday, May 6, 2014


CWM Chemical Services maintains a 710-acre facility in the towns of Lewiston and Porter for the treatment, storage and disposal of hazardous and industrial non-hazardous wastes. Wastes accepted at this facility are disposed of in an on-site landfill (known as RMU-1) or shipped to another facility for further processing and disposal.

CWM has plans in the works to create a new 43.5-acre landfill (RMU-2) just to the west of their current one. The new dump would have a capacity of 4 million cubic yards for the disposal of hazardous and industrial non-hazardous wastes and will reach its capacity in 10 to 20 years. If you’d like to immerse yourself in the details of the proposal, there is trove of information on the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) website at

Last week, the DEC announced that a public comment period is now open until July 7th in which interested parties can submit their feedback about the expansion.

Take advantage of that chance. We who live, work and play in Niagara County now have less than 60 days to make our voices heard and prevent this expansion.

Yes, prevent.

Sure, our economy needs a shot in the arm and most expansions of current businesses should be welcomed with open arms. But, there are certain times when we as a society need to take a step back and ask if it’s really the best thing for the health of our environment and our families. This is one of those times.

Realize that after the natural beauty of Niagara Falls and the mighty Niagara River, Niagara County is most known the world-over as being a cesspool of chemical waste (an odd amalgamation of contrasts). Before state/federal/international regulation and a better environmental understanding was gained by the populace, manufacturers and tanneries dumped their offal into those waters, forever tainting them and their shorelines. Our own government also found it convenient to do the same while conducting the Manhattan Project.

From the River to Love Canal to an Eighteen-Mile Creek so stricken with poison its fish can’t be eaten (despite it being a tourist destination for that very act), it’s no wonder that we all know someone who has suffered from cancer, MS, and other ailments that are more pronounced here than in most other regions of the country.

It’s likely CWM isn’t to blame for any of that, but decades of direct exposure to the same chemicals that they are bringing here, just under different circumstances with different corporations (many of which no longer exist) are to blame. We need to need to learn from those mistakes. 

CWM’s landfill will possess a double composite liner system consisting of natural and synthetic materials with primary and secondary systems for leachate collection and removal and it will meet stringent regulatory operating and design requirements. Even so, anything can happen. These are containment systems designed by and built by Man, an erred species, so leaks can and do occur.

On top of that, people regularly make mistakes or deliberate “errors”. Case in point: In 2008, CWM agreed to pay a $175,000 penalty to settle a series of violations of its operating permit and state hazardous waste laws. At the time, the DEC noted dozens of violations including improperly labeled, deteriorating and leaking drums, disposal of non-hazardous waste without approval, process tank overflows, waste transporter conditions compliance failure and other issues. 

Those are just some of the problems that can happen on-site. Consider what can happen off-site. These wastes have to come from somewhere, and will be trucked in, as they are now, from all corners of the country, from communities who know better than to store hazardous wastes in their backyards. Those trucks pass through our neighborhoods, by our schools, and near our creeks. Sooner or later, one of those trucks will have an accident (especially given our 5 months of winter driving). When that happens, who knows what will be unleashed.

So, if you value the beauty and safety of Niagara County and what the future holds for your children and grandchildren, please take the time to share your comments with the DEC:      

James T. McClymonds
Chief Administrative Law Judge
NYSDEC Office of Hearings and Mediation Services
625 Broadway, 1st Floor
Albany, NY 12233-1550

Thursday, May 1, 2014


Most people would think that because my livelihood is based in plastics I’d toe the industry line and wax poetic on the economic and social virtues of plastics of all sorts. This is not always the case.  

As a producer of durables that are supposed to last a lifetime, I can’t help but view the manufacture and use of many disposables as being questionable. Water bottles are one of those things that immediately come to mind. US consumers buy a staggering 30 billion of these throwaways (only 30% are recycled), something I consider to be environmentally and financially wasteful given that they can make a one-time purchase of a beverage container and get water for almost-free out of their taps. Such nonsensical consumerism contributes to the 32 million tons of plastic waste put into landfills annually.

The latest and greatest threat posed by my peers in the industry concerns something that you can’t see but allegedly makes what (who) you can see that much more attractive – microbeads.

Microbeads are, like the name implies, small particles of plastics. They come in sizes of 5 millimeters and less and are used in a variety of applications, the most popular being the abrasive base of exfoliating personal care products. The beads within facial scrubs, soaps and shampoos are far less than a millimeter in size. After going down your drain, they make it to municipal waste water treatment plants but are so small and buoyant that they are not caught by plants’ filters and make it into our rivers, lakes, and oceans.

Though small in size, their total volume adds up in a hurry as they are a part of our everyday lives. When you think of all those exfoliating products in your household and how pervasive broadcast and print marketing is for those items (and beauty products in general), you realize that we’re not talking about a pittance of pollutants here. A 2012 study conducted by SUNY Fredonia and the 5 Gyres Institute found that microbeads account for half of the plastic found floating on Lake Erie’s surface.

Let’s put that into perspective: Think about how many times you’ve walked the shore of Lakes Erie or Ontario and encountered an unsavory mess onshore and offshore that might include packaging, beverage containers, detergent bottles and tampon applicators. For everything that you do see, there’s just as much plastic, by weight, that you can’t see floating on the surface and stuck amongst the grains of sand on the beach.

Beyond just filling the environment with things that don’t belong, microbeads’ effects on the food chain are scary. They pick up contaminants like PCBs and then are ingested by small fish and invertebrates which are then eaten by larger fish which are in turn eaten by birds, wild mammals, and Man. Everything – and everyone -- at the top of the chain pick up the accumulated poisons.  

There was a well-publicized push by New York State to ban microbeads earlier this year. Even the Attorney General contributed to the cause, helping to develop the Microbead-Free Waters Act that would prohibit the production, manufacture, distribution and sale in New York of any beauty product, cosmetic or other personal care product containing plastic particles less than 5 millimeters in size.

Despite much fanfare at the bill’s launch, there’s been little movement since. The Assembly bill (8744) introduced by Robert Sweeney, Chair of the Assembly’s Environmental Conservation Committee, has been referred to committees and codes and has not yet even garnered a sponsor in the Senate. It’s highly unlikely that a senator will draft that house’s version this year (there’s just over a month left in the session) or next. So, this much-needed piece of legislation will likely go down the drain, just like the beads they hope to regulate.

Four other states have proposed similar bans with Illinois being the only one where passage might happen.

Luckily, bad press and free market adjustments have caused some of the big players to change their offerings, with Johnson & Johnson, Procter & Gamble and Colgate-Palmolive all planning to phase-out microbeads in the next few years (opting instead for natural abrasives).

But, dozens more lesser-known manufacturers still plan to use them. Hopefully, consumer sentiment will force their hands, too. But then again, they might not…if American consumers are as “green” as we say we are, then why are we willingly going through 30 billion water bottles a year?