Vocativ is one of those hip, new online news sites. Like most news media these days, they are reporting on the proposed EPA cuts in the most alarming terms. This one deals specifically with the EPA grants made to the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.
These tribes received $18 million in National Estuary Program funding in 2010 and another $25 million in 2016. $655,000 of those funds were used or intended to be used to run a vicious political attack on farmers aimed at passing laws and building public outrage through false accusations. But, that's just part of the story. In defending his action against legal challenges, the EPA administrator claimed his staff told him he had no control over how the money was spent.
Hello Alasdair Wilkins who wrote the story for Vocativ: Did you bother to find out exactly how that money was spent? Could you have asked why the EPA is funneling this money to this group instead of the project set up by the state to coordinate all Puget Sound restoration efforts? Did you ask what we got for that money? Did you ask if the money was misspent as many Congressional leaders have said, why was the ante upped and more given? Did you notice that the Office of Inspector General not only criticized how these grants were used before but now is investigating Congressional accusations of violations of federal law?
It is just possible that should the budget assigned to this boondoggle be cut for the NWIFC, there will be no impact on the environment because we have not been able to identify one positive impact for the environment from the money already spent.
Here's what Vocativ says about itself on its website:
Vocativ is at the nexus of media and technology. We use deep web technology as a force for good and go where others can’t to reveal hidden voices, emerging trends and surprising data. We turn exclusive insights into visual stories that offer our audience new perspectives and connect us more deeply to a changing world.
Sorry, you didn't go deep enough, you didn't go where other didn't and your complaints about these cuts are not a force for good. We are fighting to keep our farms, and fighting to keep our own money from being used to destroy farms based on false accusations. Vocativ: dig deeper.
Those farmers and farm supporters of Save Family Farming are passionate about doing what we can to save our family farms -- big ones and small ones. But we recognize the reality that we are losing our small family farms at accelerating pace.
It's true that many small farms have started, but most of those are in reality hobby farms, part time farms, even if they aspire to become a family-supporting farm operation.
This Union-Bulletin news report tells how difficult it is for small farmers to survive these days. Market forces that require ever-larger investments are certainly a driving factor. Not much we can do about that. It is the non-market forces, the anti-farm activists who for whatever reasons they have, want to see our farms leave. While they appear to target the large farms they find so offensive, it is the small farms that simply can't cope with the added costs, pressures, litigation and stress.
Even those interested in starting small, part-time, organic farms now face an even greater hurdle: the Hirst decision. Like the Foster case earlier, the Hirst decision of our Supreme Court makes it not only very difficult to farm based on extreme interpretations of in-stream flow rules, this ruling will greatly slow if not stop the growth we have seen in small farms. Why? Because if you are a young farmer (or wannabe) and want to get some land out in the country for your farm, you will likely need a well for your home and small farm. Not going to get it.
Those urban elected representatives who like to think they are voting for environmental causes need to think long and hard about the consequences. This article shows the pain caused by decisions harmful to farmers.
Technology has always been important to farming. Imagine the day when a shaggy farmer tied a crooked stick behind his pet cow and tilled the soil.
For most of the past ten thousand years or so, most of that technology has been about improving production. We are all the beneficiaries as we have by far the safest, healthiest and least costly food system humans have ever enjoyed.
But given the focus on the environmental impact of farming, particularly on water, there is a lot of emphasis on ways to enable farmers to manage nutrients. Precision farming is one big thing that applies to how and how much fertilizer and water are applied. Even drones are being used to get better information about when and where to irrigate and fertilize.
This week's editorial in Capital Press, following a story by Don Jenkins earlier, gives attention to new technology coming from Sedro Woolley in Skagit County. Janicki Industries is well known as an innovative leader in engineering in many areas, but Peter Janicki has turned some valuable attention to the issue of manure management. The digester designed to turn human waste into clean water at the village or small city scale, may very well work in converting manure from large dairies into valuable and harmless products. We already have bio-gas digesters that convert manure into power and pathogen-free solids and waste water. This waste water can be applied to fields as fertilizer as it contains the needed crop nutrients, but it is virtually bacteria-free meaning it lessens the risk of surface water contamination.
A new organization called Newtrient has been formed to help the nation's 42,000 dairy farmers get better information and access to the rapidly expanding suite of technologies and services to help them better manage nutrients (manure is a highly valued organic fertilizer somewhat euphemistically referred to as nutrients). Their technology catalog features information from 164 different vendors, all related in some way to managing nutrients.
Farm critics push "solutions" that will add costs beyond which farmers can bear. That is no solution other than to send our food production to countries who protect their growers from this action. What is a much better solution for those farm critics is to get involved in helping farmers find the best way to feed them and the 7.5 other billion people who inhabit our planet. Farmers are serious about these improvements. So should the farm critics be.
It is so sad to read of areas where farming was once strong and vibrant but now all but gone. It's the story of many areas in the urban fringes of Western Washington. Today, it is Clark County, the county near the rapidly growing metropolis of Portland, Oregon.
The Columbian ran an excellent report on the decline of this once strong farming area.
The typical questions are being asked: can government do something to save our farms? Not really at this point. The horse, as they say, has pretty much left the barn. Massive efforts to save farmland through purchasing development rights many years ago, such as in the Northgate area of Seattle, proved ineffective.
The only real answer is working to ensure the economic vitality of the existing family farms.
Some see hope in the growth of small farm-to-table farms. That is indeed a great development and has many positives for farming. But very few of those new small farms are family farms in the sense that they are able to make a living from farming. By far the vast majority are part time farms with the farmers having to hold other jobs to sustain their operations. What is often missed in the discussion is that without the larger, professional, commercial, economically viable farms, the infrastructure to make the small farms work is usually not available. That makes it even more difficult to make those farms viable.
Right now there are a number of areas in our state where there is a wonderful and sustainable mix of the small farm-to-table operations and the larger, commercial operations. The infrastructure is there, the years of knowledge and experience are available for younger farmers to tap into, the markets and support structures are established. There may come a time where places like Whatcom County and Skagit County will be asking the questions that Clark County is asking: Can anything be done to save our farms and farmland? But that question needs to be raised now and the answers need to be provided now, not when the horse has left the barn.
Seattle Times environmental writer reported on the silence of the many environmental groups regarding the massive sewage spill still going on in Seattle. Earlier, three state representatives pointed out that those pointing fingers at everyone else about environmental degradation were nowhere to be seen on the sewage plant disaster.
It seems these questions have hit the mark because all of a sudden Puget Soundkeepers has jumped in. As much as the headline claims, read the post and you will see that this organization is more oriented to congratulate King County than complain about the problem.
We just want to point out that Puget Soundkeepers is one of the seven sponsors of What's Upstream. They actively participated in the lies, misinformation, distortion and illegal campaign activity aimed at farmers. The continue their anti-farm attacks by signing on with Eugene, Oregon environmental lawyers working desperately to protect their legal fees in suing dairy farmers , by appealing Ecology's new CAFO permit.
Folks, this isn't really about environmental protection. If it were, Puget Soundkeepers would be signing on to the requirements of the Puget Sound Partnership that calls for placing a high priority on protecting working farms and farmland in order to protect our precious Puget Sound. Instead, they attack farmers, call for measures that would spell the end of almost all dairy farms and seek to remove large swathes of farmland from production. If it is not about the environment, which it clearly is not, it is most likely about fundraising. Those working for these organizations want to keep their jobs too. For that, they need money. To get money, they have to have targets, bogeymen, evil corporations to attack. That's why they insist on referring to our family farmers as "industrial agriculture," ignoring that 95% of Washington farms are owned and managed by long time family farmers. It would be much harder to raise money among their urban supporters by focusing on things that would directly affect their lives. What's easier? Ask the urban citizen to give up a big chunk of their property, or absorb about 20 years income in new costs for highly questionable environmental improvements? Or ask for their money to help attack those a few miles away that they don't know.
Let's be clear. Farms have and in some cases continue to contribute to environmental problems. But nothing like urban area contributions. Farmers have improved environmental performance greatly and are ever more committed to sustainable farm operations while feeding the rest of us. Look at almost any aspect of urban development and you see far more impact on the environment. The failure of the West Point treatment plants helps make that clear. When are the environmental activist groups located in and drawing support from those urban residents going to get focused on where they can do real good for the environment?
They say there are two sides to every story. But most of the reporting and certainly from NPR doesn't suggest that when it comes to EPA funding.
We showed here earlier some of the numerous NPR reports about the horrors of EPA funding cuts. Now, this one about how the tribes would suffer if the new administration follows through on funding cuts. Our point is not to comment on whether cutting the funding would be a good idea or not. We are strongly in favor of appropriate funding for environmental protection. But that is our point here. We don't see that the millions and millions the EPA has spent has delivered much of value.
Certainly our view is affected by the fact that the EPA knowingly approved $655,000 of environmental restoration money to fund a campaign full or lies, distortions, false accusations and overt political activity called What's Upstream. These funds were part of an $18 million National Estuary Program grant provided to the tribes through the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission. While we focused on the Whats Upstream campaign run by the Swinomish Tribe, a look at some of the other funds also raises questions. Take the "Tribal Journey," for example. We challenge any one interested to find the results of this "water quality monitoring" program. We did find some results but it took an awful lot of digging, numerous phone calls and referrals to various government offices. We didn't even get to the next question: how is this being used?
We are very upset that despite promises to the contrary made to Congressional leaders, the EPA granted an additional $25 million in environmental restoration funds to the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission. In defending himself against our complaint about illegal campaign activity, the Region 10 Administrator declared that when the EPA gives money to the tribes, it has nothing to say about how it is spent. Come on. So we are turning over, just in the Puget Sound region, upwards of $50 million to groups who can do what they want with it, including running public campaigns full of lies and spend money to pass citizen's initiatives and pass legislation?
We have in our region the Puget Sound Partnership. This was started by Governor Gregoire and while there are many concerns about the value of the millions spent here, we have to ask why the EPA is not directing its millions there?
More than that, we have to ask NPR and KUOW while they are refusing to ask this question.
Where is the outcry against the massive sewage spill dumping raw sewage into Puget Sound?
Seattle-based environmental activists and legislators who jump to their tune are continually accusing farmers of massive pollution. But where are they when pollution that dwarfs anything they are complaining about happens in their backyards?
We're talking about the massive spill of raw sewage into Puget Sound with the failure of the West Point treatment plant in Seattle.
We understand that accidents can happen. But when they happen to a dairy farmer and he spills even a tiny amount in a stream he is subject to enforcement action and possibly fines. One Whatcom farmer even had the EPA's criminal investigation unit show up, packing a pistol, for a very small accidental spill that was already cleaned up.
Seattle-based environmental lawyers, like the one from Eugene-based Western Environmental Law Center, want to be able to sue farmers for even these small incidents and are appealing the Ecology's new CAFO permit largely because of its protections against these kinds of lawsuits. But, where is their outrage against this massive spill that is causing far far greater damage to Puget Sound than anything they have complained about. I checked. Nothing on their website. Only a press release about their appeal of the CAFO permit.
Three state representatives including Whatcom County's Vince Buys wrote an excellent guest editorial published in the Seattle Times. Here they point out the double standard of the activists and their elected followers (who most likely all live in the big cities) continually pointing out rural pollution while ignoring the much bigger problems of urban pollution.
In farm country, we suggest that these activists and legislators take the beam out of their own eyes before trying to take the sliver out of the farmers' and rural residents' eyes. But to translate for those who may miss the reference: stop your hypocrisy and double standards and start focusing on your own backyard where the bigger problems are.
Generally, NPR does a pretty good job of presenting the news. But the story circulating on NPR outlets about EPA cuts in Puget Sound miss some very important information. Namely, that the $28 million spent in just one year by the EPA on Puget Sound restoration is being badly and sadly misspent. The $655,000 budgeted for the illegal and nasty attack on farmers called What's Upstream is just one example. We looked at other projects included in the $18 million National Estuary Program grant provided to the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission and found it very difficult, if not impossible, to determine any environmental benefit. For example, a significant amount of money was spent on the "tribal journey" where tribal members go out in canoes and do water sampling. But getting the results of that water sampling required several hours of work. And what is this used for? Other projects create similar questions.
What troubles us, is not only is this money being used for overtly political purposes and attacking our farmers, it is not going where there is accountability and where it can do some good. In defending himself against our complaint that he violated state laws, former EPA Region 10 Administrator said that the EPA had no control over how the tribes spent the money they were granted. Seriously. So a very large portion of the EPA "environmental" money (remember, it is our money) goes where those who get it can do whatever they want with it.
Where is NPR on this side of the story? Why not look into where all that money is going and if we are getting a reasonable environmental return?
Another story being used by those opposed to the much-needed changes in the EPA is about new legislation blocking "secret science." This is EXACTLY the problem with the use of "science" by Region 10 in the Yakima dairy situation. Not only did the "science" they created violate all rules of science, the EPA intentionally withheld it from experts and then refused to allow critical comments to be publicly presented.
There's much more to the story of EPA abuse that needs to be told. Too bad we can't count on our major news outlets to tell it.
According to this March 3, 2017 press release from Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the Regulatory Integrity Act is moving forward. She notes that it was the What's Upstream campaign that triggered this action in Congress to require more accountability from our federal agencies.
We express our deep appreciation to Rep. McMorris Rodgers as well as Rep. Dan Newhouse who has also worked hard on demanding accountability from the EPA, and failing that, forcing the agency to increased accountability through this act. We are deeply disappointed that Rep. Suzan DelBene and Rep. Rick Larsen, both representing many of our Western Washington farmers, have steadfastly refused to stand with farmers against this clear, obvious and very damaging abuse by the EPA. We have not even been able to get a statement of recognition from them of the problem. The contrast between actions by McMorris Rodgers and Newhouse and these representatives is stark.
Save Family Farming
We're working to build public understanding of the environmental stewardship of our family farmers.