Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Oklahoma fighting for the environment

If you've never been to Oklahoma, you really ought to go. It's a beautiful land where you can still find crystal clear lakes and streams, where the cities (what few there are) aren't covered in smog, and the land is completely covered in concrete. Unfortunately, not everyone seems to want to keep it that way.

Every time the rain comes down, muddy water laden with phosphorus, arsenic and other contaminants flows into the Illinois River from chicken farms nearby and just across the border in Arkansas.

The inflow of nutrients has begun to change the river and the reservoir it feeds, Tenkiller Ferry Lake. At times the water is clogged with fish-killing algae, occasionally emitting a foul odor that affects the drinking water and undercuts the area's attraction as a tourist destination.

Naturally, this is the result of big business being allowed to regulate itself. Next time someone talks up the value of deregulation, just remember that this is the kind of result you can expect. Oklahoma intends to do something about it.

Frustrated that nearly four years of talks failed to produce a solution, Oklahoma is now suing eight firms -- including Arkansas giant Tyson Foods Inc. -- on the grounds that the chicken waste applied to crops near the river contains hazardous chemicals that are damaging the ecosystem and jeopardizing the region's tourist industry.

Now I'm not going to sit here and put all the blame on some corporate fat cats who sit in their offices far away from these farms, smoking cigars and drinking brandy bought at the expense of the general public. That's where most of the blame goes, but in a lot of these cases, you also have men who used to be small-time ranchers or farmers who have succumbed to the corporatized system (read Fast Food Nation for more on that) and now have chicken farms with a hundred thousand chickens on them. The problem is that they are ignorant of the environmental problems this industry causes, much less willing to clean it up because most of these men aren't getting rich by any means. And, while the "interstate commerce" clause is called in as means for the US government to regulate quite a variety of things that can only be tenuously called interstate commerce, pollution is obviously a case that crosses state borders. This is one situation where the federal government should be involved, but this Congress and President have been reluctant to take a stance (unless their stance is to be inactive in order to allow businesses to do what they want).

Across the country, states and localities are suing polluters outside their jurisdiction, and sometimes each other, in efforts to curb air and water contamination that respects no borders. They say they are forced to act because Congress and the Bush administration have failed to crack down on everything from storm water runoff to dumping of invasive aquatic species.

In some cases, there is little in the way of federal law or regulation. This is the case with the factory farms in Arkansas and Oklahoma. The administration is still sorting through which regulations apply to poultry, dairy and hog farmers, and existing rules don't apply to those who buy the waste for fertilizer. And some lawmakers, such as Rep. Ralph M. Hall (R-Tex.), are lobbying to permanently exempt these industries from even minimal federal oversight.

As some examples of situations where this administration is demonstrating a willingness to short-change the citizens of the US for the good of business interests:

Other times the administration has blessed activities in one state that another state opposes: Virginia -- over Kentucky's objections -- plans to allow a strip mining company to discharge more than a billion gallons of briny water into a river just eight miles from where it flows into Kentucky.

In others instances, the Bush administration has declined to take action, such as the Environmental Protection Agency's decision not to regulate ballast water from freighters that release invasive species into waterways.

If you read the rest of the article, it does mention that some of this pollution is being protected by the states, such as Arkansas' runoff or Virginia dumping polluted water into a river it shares with Kentucky. That's even more reason for the federal government to be involved. It's not ok for any one entity to decide to pollute some other entity's water, land, or air.

A lot of right-wingers characterize anyone who voices a pro-environment position as a tree-hugger. Not that there's anything wrong with loving your trees. They do provide you the means for life, after all. People ought to be more appreciative of the things that make life possible, but I guess nothing's as important as the almighty dollar to some. I do know that one of the most common failings of the right-winger is failure to consider how their actions will affect future generations. That may be why the Bush administration wanted to allow cutting in the Giant Sequoia National Monument. Ostensibly it was for their protection, as it would allow cutting the smaller trees (up to 30" in diameter) so they wouldn't catch fire and burn any of the larger trees. That's kind of odd, given that fires have swept through there many times in the history of these ancient trees.

But in the cases I was talking about earlier, it's not even that anyone is trying to protect nature that serves no money-generating purpose. People like clean natural areas. In the case of both Kentucky and Oklahoma, they're trying to protect their tourist industries. And those are big industries, so what could possibly be the reason for the federal government's failure to protect them? Maybe it's that Republicans value business interests more than they do the interests of average citizens (represented by lower governments, such as states) because most citizens aren't going to give them money for reelection campaigns. And that's another reason we need to kick them out of office.

No comments: