If you live long enough, you will have a chance to see whether your predictions are affirmed or shown to be exaggerated or simply off base.

In 1995, environmentalists predicted that a change in the state polluter pay law would expose public health and the environment to unacceptable risks. The proposed change, which sailed through the legislature, absolved many polluters of the responsibility to clean up their messes.   If they could demonstrate that they would control pollution so that people or sensitive resources would not be exposed to it, they could leave the pollution in place. That of course saved them millions of dollars.

Now, a generation later, the bill is coming due. And the public will be paying a lot of it. As this story shows, leaving chemicals in the ground does not mean they will stay there forever.

It’s sad that this policy change is exposing citizens to health risks and taxpayers to big bills. But it also shows that if the terrible consequence of a policy manifests two decades later, it is easy for officeholders to sacrifice the public interest today.