OPINION: Tough-on-crime Johnson ought to get the lead out
State Sen. Betsy Johnson claims to care about public safety, but her actions and livelihood suggest otherwise.
Rather than pontificate about punishments for crimes committed, let's take a deeper look at societal and political factors that contribute to criminal behavior, and then look at the extent to which Johnson exacerbates crime while promoting her own self-interest.
Sen. Johnson and her husband, John Helm, own Transwestern Aviation, a company based at the Scappoose Airpark in Columbia County. It is the only facility that sells fuel at the airport.
The Scappoose Airpark caters primarily to affluent aircraft owners and the flight training industry.
For decades, Johnson has benefited from the sale of jet and leaded aviation fuel. She also has a knack for promoting legislation that places her on the receiving end of lavish Federal Aviation Administration and Oregon Department of Aviation handouts while ignoring environmental impacts.
A 2019 Colorado State University study found that poor air quality contributes to an increase in aggravated assault and abusive behavior. The study also found that a 10% reduction in particulates and ozone could lead to a savings of $1.4 billion in crime costs annually.
Thus, if Johnson truly wants to reduce crime, she could begin by decreasing fossil-fuel burning aviation activity at the Scappoose Airpark and other Oregon airports.
Given Johnson's history of being a major polluter, it should come as no surprise that her voting record has garnered low marks from the Oregon League of Conservation Voters (OLCV), 41 for the 2021 session and 31 in 2019.
In addition, a review of the 2017 Environmental Protection Agency National Emissions Inventory reveals that the Scappoose Airpark is the number-one source of lead emissions in Columbia County.
Lead is a neurotoxin that is associated with increased violence. An Aug. 3, 2021, lead study at the Reid-Hillview Airport (RHV) in San Jose pointed to scientific research linking elevated blood lead levels in children with various outcomes, including but not limited to cognitive impairments, ADHD, poor academic achievement, abnormal psychology and behavior in adolescence, and higher incidence of juvenile delinquency in adolescents.
Kevin Drum, author of a 2013 report "America's Real Criminal Element: Lead," sheds additional light on this issue. He points to evidence from multiple levels — international, national, state, city, and individual — "Groups of children have been followed from the womb to adulthood, and higher childhood blood lead levels are consistently associated with higher adult arrest rates for violent crimes. All of these studies tell the same story: Gasoline lead is responsible for a good share of the rise and fall of violent crime over the past half century."
Drum further states, "We can either get rid of the remaining lead, or we can wait 20 years and then lock up all the kids who have turned into criminals."
What this suggests is that if Johnson is truly committed to addressing violent crime, she can start by reducing the lead pollution and toxic emissions generated by Scappoose Airpark aviation activity, especially the flight students, many from Hillsboro Aero Academy, engaged in training at this facility. She can also champion reparations on behalf of the many constituents who have been exploited and exposed to lead, noise, and other toxins as a result of the aircraft fueling up and flying to and from the Scappoose Airpark.
Miki Barnes is founder of Oregon Aviation Watch, an advocacy group focused on the impacts of noise and pollution caused by general aviation. She lives in Manning.
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