Thursday, July 31, 2003

Raging Bull(sh*t)

Say what you want about Minnesota’s conflicted, confused millionaire Senator, he seems to be a temperate man. Unlike his former colleague Paul Wellstone, Mark Dayton is not prone to wild-eyed emotional outbursts and flourishes of heated, saliva sputtering, irresponsible rhetoric.

That is, apparently, unless you threaten his most closely cherished core beliefs. If today’s paper can be believed, this has occurred, with Congressional attempts to reduce the standard for soundproofing houses near the airport by up to 5 decibels.

The story:

[A Congressional Conference committee] was working on a bill providing funds for the Federal Aviation Administration. Part of the debate centered on whether air-traffic control should be turned over to private companies. The new language restricting federal funds for expanded noise mitigation was added without having been debated in the House or the Senate.

The new language would forbid agencies such as the Airports Commission from using federal airport grants to insulate homes exposed to noise less than an average of 65 decibels. The commission has been insulating houses exposed to 65 or more decibels since the early 1990s. In 1996 it also agreed to eventually provide some degree of noise mitigation to houses exposed to an average of 60 to 64 decibels.

Senator Dayton’s reaction:

Dayton said he was "enraged" at what he called a "back-door attempt" by Northwest to keep the commission from expanding its $208 million noise-insulation program to additional neighborhoods. He said the amendment appeared directed at Minnesota because few if any other airport agencies are planning to insulate houses below the 65-decibel threshold.

He alleged that Northwest persuaded someone -- "reportedly Sen. Trent Lott," a Mississippi Republican -- to insert the mitigation limits in the conference committee report.

Dayton said Northwest lobbyists used "the most devious means I've encountered since I have arrived in Washington" in January 2001. He called the episode "exhibit A for a unicameral Congress and the elimination of conference committees."

Setting the standard at 65 decibels. A change in Minnesota standards by 5 decibels, to a level already adopted by most of the country. And Mark Dayton is “enraged,” accusing Trent Lott of personally targeting Minnesota neighborhoods, slurring Northwest Airlines, and calling for a complete overhaul of the Constitution and of our system of governance?

By the way, according to the League for the Hard of Hearing (whom I’ve always felt were much more objective than the Association of Folks Who Are A Might Deef), 85 decibels is the point at which noise, over a prolonged period of time, could damage hearing.

10 decibels is the sound of normal breathing. And the standards are being reduced by half of that level, which I guess is equivalent to the sound of a squirrel wistfully sighing (which is heartbreaking I grant you, but not a threat to anyone's eardrums).

Yes, Senator Dayton's reaction seems more than a little over the top. A cynic might suggest he's once again clumsily trying to ingratiate himself to the middle and lower classes by defending each and every public subsidy to the death, in the hopes of grabbing some headlines. But optimist that I am, I'll just assume that he's just hyper-sensitive to noise. Or he hates squirrels.