Sometimes you can't even make this stuff up. Those who have looked at the Regulatory Integrity Act of 2016 will note that it is about increasing transparency and accountability among our government agencies--actually that means the real live human beings who run them. This bill was passed with two recent violations of federal law by the EPA very much in mind. 1) The finding by the GAO in late 2015 that the EPA violated federal laws against lobbying by using social media to promote the Waters of the US Rule and 2) by the EPA funding an overtly (and outrageously false) political campaign against farmers known as What's Upstream.
This Capital Press story of Sept 28 reports that the White House has said it would veto the bill (if it got out of the Senate.) OK, so the administration is going to protect the leaders of these agencies, we get that. But the reason provided is absurd: that it could lead to a less informed public.
You kind of have to wrap your head around this for a minute, particularly if you have read the bill. By the way, it passed the house with bi-partisan support by 250 to 171. A bill clearly aimed at bringing agency leaders actions into the light of day could misinform the public? Agency leaders who have twice in the recent past shown complete disregard for federal laws against using tax payers money should be shielded from public scrutiny?
I think we need a better explanation than that.
In this Yakima Herald guest editorial, Steve George of the Washington State Dairy Federation shows how the numerous complaints of Friends of Toppenish Creek are being rebutted by state agencies. That's good, but we point out that Friends of Toppenish Creek were one of the sponsors of What's Upstream and therefore are at least partly responsible for spending $655,00 of taxpayer money illegally.
Their numerous unfounded complaints against farmers in the Yakima Valley, including personal attacks on a highly qualified board member of the air quality authority, are also misusing tax dollars. We suspect there are very, very few individuals involved in this organization. But using legal interns (also supported by our tax dollars) they are making our government employees spend hundreds if not thousands of hours and dollars to respond to their nonsense.
I wonder if this would continue if those making knowingly false accusations that cause government employees to respond were held liable for the costs involved? Maybe this is something our legislators should be looking into.
No, this isn't about "What's Upstream" and the federal and state laws we believe the EPA violated in funding the anti-farm lobbying campaign.
But this story from the Texas Farm Bureau is sounding familiar, which reports:
The ruling in American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) and National Pork Producers Council vs. EPA concerned the federal agency’s 2013 release to three environmental groups of a vast compilation of spreadsheets containing personal information about farmers and ranchers who raise livestock and poultry in 29 states. The case also related to similar personal information from farmers and ranchers in seven additional states that had yet to be released.
The Eighth Circuit Court unanimous decision against the EPA stated:
According to the court, “EPA’s release of the complete set of data on a silver platter, so to speak, basically hands to the requestors a comprehensive database of their own, whatever their motives might be.”
Anti-farm activists are complaining a lot about "lack of transparency" in protecting farmers' business and private information. But they lack transparency in making clear that their interest is in suing farmers. EPA has shown itself to be far more friendly to those who want to sue (and distort the facts ala Whats Upstream) than to those who want to grow our food in an environmentally friendly way.
Just one more example...
Good news for water and the environment, bad news for anti-farm activists (sponsors of What's Upstream)
On September 8 the Skagit Herald ran a story about success in reducing fecal coliform in Padilla Bay affecting the swimming beaches at Bayview State Park. The article reports that unlike past years where the beaches had multiple closures due to high fecal coliform counts, this year there was just one.
Why this improvement? A county effort called PIC for Pollution Identification and Correction is largely responsible. A concentrated effort to address the likeliest potential sources — septic systems and farms with animals — appears to have worked. While it is unclear from the story of the measures taken by farmers, it is quite clear that septic systems in the Bayview area were addressed and measures to ensure proper performance have worked.
Why is this bad news for anti-farm activists? The sponsors of What's Upstream, and particularly the Western Environmental Law Center's Andrea Rodgers have consistently tried to pin the blame for water quality problems on farmers. Their efforts to sue farmers, prevent farmers from getting the normal protection that other state permit holders for protection against third party lawsuits, plus their so-called "science" research aimed at requiring massive new regulations all would result in loss of many if not most of our farmers. It certainly would accelerate the trend to larger farms as those have more financial capability of withstanding lawsuits and expensive regulations.
This article is one more proof point that it is simply wrong-headed to try to pin the blame for water pollution on farmers. Do farmers contribute? Yes, but much less than before thanks to existing regulations, enforcement and pro-active environmental stewardship demonstrated by the vast majority of farmers. That improvement is continuing.
These anti-farm activists behind What's Upstream pose as environmental advocates. Really? When their actions will drive our family farmers out of business? What do they think will happen to the land when farmers can no longer afford to farm? All one has to do is to look at the former farming areas such as Northgate, the Green river valley, the 405 corridor, and more recently, the area south of Arlington. That is the future these activists are pursuing. Environmentalists? No. Farmers and those supporting family farming are the ones standing for a better environmental future today.
How do you identify an opponent of family farms? When they call our farms "factory" or "industrial" farms
It's also what Drew Atkins, editor of Crosscut, did when he introduced the Crosscut Point Counter Point article involving the Ecology CAFO permit. He called his article: "Regulating Factory Farms" thereby showing his interest is much more in demeaning our family farms than in any real effort at journalistic integrity.
What is the truth about farming in Washington State? The Washington Policy Center, a well respected state think tank, has recently added an Agriculture Policy Center. It is a very welcome addition and already they are showing why they have become highly respected among our state's leaders. It is also an indication that they, like many farmers, are understanding that farming is under a sustained attack that is characterized by distortions, misinformation and overt attempts at demonizing our farmers.
As this post from the new Ag Policy Center lead Madi Clark makes clear, family farmers make up over 95% of our state's farms. Here is the relevant data from this report: "...most of those family farms are small. More than 90% of all farms are classified as small farms with gross cash farm income less than $350,000. Despite representing 90% of farms, small family farms only contribute 26% to total agricultural production. On the other hand, midsize and large scale farms, many of which are owned by families, make up 8% of the farming operations but account for 60% of the agricultural output."
The simply truth is almost all our farms are family farms. There are small ones, and large ones. For the small farms to feed the world, we would have to turn the clock back over a hundred years when half the people were employed in work to feed the other half. As Ag Secretary Vilsack pointed out recently in a video, without the remarkable production of just a thousand farmers, many of you wouldn't be able to choose to be a coder, an artist, a lawyer, or doctor or barista. You'd be working in the fields and barnyards like, most likely, your grandparents or great grandparents did. And if we did return to having our food raised on these small farms alone, we would be paying much more like the 40 to 45 percent of our annual income on food, compared to the about 14 percent today.
Think about that. Say you make $65,000 per year and raising a family. If you had to spend $30,000 on food, what would you have to give up? Your house? Car? Coffee?
We need our small farms, we need our large farms. What we really need is multi-generation family farms as we still have but are losing fast.
The September 8 story in the Skagit Herald gets a number of things wrong, but the most serious errors are made by What's Upstream managers Larry Wasserman and Marty Loesch.
As we note in our comments about this story, Wasserman's claims about the accuracy of the campaign is completely undermined by the numerous edits and demands for documentation of false claims made by EPA staff. Those edits were largely ignored after Wasserman went over the head of EPA staff and apparently got a green light from Administrator Dennis McLerran. Loesch's comments about it not being a lobbying effort are, well, absurd. This coming from a lawyer and former Chief of Staff of Governor Gregoire, and current Chief Counsel for Strategies 360? Not lobbying? Let's see what Washington state law and federal laws say about that.
The Skagit story did get a few other things wrong. The amount of taxpayer money spent on this malicious campaign is $655,000 according to Capital Press reports. And Save Family Farming is not just a local group. While it includes farmers and farm supporters from Skagit County it also includes a wide variety of farmers of various products from around the state, as well as non-farmers concerned about this kind of attack on farming and consequences to our environment if these attacks are successful.
Save Family Farming
We're working to build public understanding of the environmental stewardship of our family farmers.