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Back to the 50s…or maybe just the 70s

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Well, I remember the 50s: Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper, and Elvis, but unless you tune in XM Sirius Radio to the Oldies Station, you’re not going to hear any 50s music. However, the 70s music is still around, but I don’t see a resurgence anytime soon. But if you do miss the 70s, the present administration in Washington and in Little Rock are trying their best to bring back the good old 70s—environmentally. Yep, the 70s featured a river actually catching on fire, the Houston ship channel was mostly an oily sewer, New York City’s dirty air was almost toxic, and the idea that a person would swim in the Cities Hudson River was considered a joke.

That national environmental nightmare brought about the Clean Water Act of 1972, and later the Clean Air Act and the Endangered Species Act was passed in a remarkable bipartisan effort.

Fast forward to 2018…36 years later, and take a look at the outstanding improvements in air and water quality, our forests and wildlife. In order to achieve this impressive improvement the EPA, Congress, and individual states have had a roll in enforcing the mandated regulations. Some states have made a lot more progress than other, and of course, Arkansas is near the bottom in spite of having the potential to actually be The Natural State. Yes, you got it, we’re moving in reverse with our governor, congressmen, and the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality making sure we bring up the rear. Our Attorney General’s lawsuit against the EPA to prevent certain smokestack emission from coal-fired electrical generating plants is a good example. To reduce the mercury spewing into the atmosphere from coal-fired plants with the potential to harm the mother’s fetus is dismissed as being too expensive.

You might be naive enough to think no one in their right mind would want to reverse the outstanding national progress that has been made under Republican and Democratic administrations. If you actually believe that, you are dead wrong, and are using alternative facts.

Today the EPA and the President, using Executive Orders, are working to reverse the environmental progress made, and they are being assisted by Congress and some individual state agencies. Those are the facts. It’s is a nationwide rollback of the 36 years of progress, from allowing coal mining in national forests to denying climate change and everything in-between. But let’s look closer to home. We have four Congressional Representatives, two Senators, and a Governor who can influence and actually enhance the EPA in its rule making and certainly can have an overall impact on the President’s Executive Directives. Well, what would I give the environmental score for our congressmen, governor, and president? Just a note of warning to my readers: I’m taking the gloves off!

I’m generous when I give the whole sorry bunch an F without using profanity. Want some local examples? Let’s start with the Buffalo National River. If you have read the papers lately, you know 14 miles of the River is now polluted. Of course, nothing has appreciably changed on the watershed except for…Oh you guessed it… the “hog farm”. Each year the hog farm spreads the hog waste on 11 fields near Big Creek…oh by the way… Big Creek has also turned up polluted. What a coincidence? The last time I checked the science books, water still runs downhill…and downhill to Big Creek…you guessed it again…Big Creek feeds into the Buffalo National River. Yes, only 14 miles of the Buffalo are polluted according to the latest tests, but what will next year and the next and the next bring? I’ll tell you what. It will bring more and more pollution until swimming will be restricted and ultimately the river will resemble a hog farm sewer. Am I crying wolf?

Hell no! I’m a geologist who knows the topography, and the karst (Swiss cheese) Boone Limestone landform that the hog farm and the fields on which they are sited. They are dumping hog farm waste on land that has a direct subsurface conduit to our National River. The tremendous amount of hog waste dumped make it virtually impossible for the river not to be polluted. Just look back at my initial column on the river some months ago, and you will see the current pollution is exactly what I predicted.

The Governor could stop the pollution source tomorrow, but instead he appointed The Beautiful Buffalo Action Committee—It’s hard to say that without laughing. It has no authority to act on the hog farm. It is just a smoke screen that allows the River to be polluted while the Governor does nothing. Anyone who follows political maneuvers knows appointing a committee is a politician’s way to not act, but to pretend you care about a problem.

However, the Governor is not alone in failing to come to the river’s rescue. Congressman Bruce Westerman, at a Hot Spring’s Coffee with Your Congressman event, was asked: “Congressman, do you believe the C & H Hog farm will pollute the Buffalo River?” His answer was recorded by several individuals. “I think the folks who canoe on the river and urinate in it, will pollute the river more than the hog farm.” The hog farm dumps the waste equivalent to a city of 20,000 on the Buffalo watershed and the congressman can dismiss it? Well, a pro-hog-farm congressman who will let the Buffalo continue to be polluted won’t get my vote this fall. Of course Congressman Westerman doesn’t have the backbone to have a town hall meeting to explain his position. He’s also a back-to-the-70s congressman who has proposed the Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2017. A thinly designed bill to make our National Forest timber company farms. His bill restricts public comments and allows up to 10,000 acres to be clear-cut without public input. Next time you see him ask how much money forest products companies have contributed to his campaign. It’s north of $100,000. He’s in the corporate timber company’s hip pocket—right next to their wallet.

I wish that were all of the rollback to the 70s, but it’s not. A bill to gut the Endangered Species Act is on the table and based on the sorry environmental record of our elected officials, they will pass it, and we can kiss the Bald Eagle, the Grizzle Bear, the Gray Wolf, and a raft of other species goodbye. The proposed bill will gut the original Endangered Species Act, and make it easier to delist and not to list critical species.

There’s a bottom line to all of this, and it is rooted in this administration’s goal to roll back environmental progress When 194 countries and the Pope are committed to fight global warming, and our country is backing out of the Paris Accord as the administration tries to deny climate change—all for coal miners, and when the same congress is trying to gut every environmental act and our congressman are happily going along with the President, you know it’s time to do the only thing we can—vote ‘em out!

Richard H. Mason of El Dorado is a syndicated columnist and author and former president of the Arkansas Wildlife Federation and the state Pollution Control & Ecology Commission. He may be reached by email at richard@ gibraltarenergy.com.

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