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Sierra Magazine

Elephant Graveyard | Murphy's Laws | Eco-Thug

Elephant Graveyard

Republican enviros try to reclaim their party before it's too late.

by Paul Rauber

Things are heating up all over. In Antarctica, global warming is causing chunks of ice the size of Long Island to break off the continent. In the Republican Party, disputes over the environment are shearing off large sectors of the GOP's core constituency. The huge piece of the Larsen Ice Shelf that drifted off into the South Pacific is destined to break up and self-destruct. Many Republicans fear that by embracing extreme anti-environmentalism, their party's chances to lead the nation will do the same.

Earlier this spring, the League of Conservation Voters released its scorecard showing the Republican- dominated 104th Congress to have the worst environmental voting record of any Congress in the past 25 years. House Republicans averaged 15 percent and Senate Republicans 11 percent (their Democratic colleagues scored 76 and 89 percent respectively), and an unprecedented 135 members scored big fat zeroes.

To the surprise of some of those leading the charge back to the Dark Ages, the War on the Environment is not playing very well with Mr. and Ms. Voter. In fact, among the more charitable responses reported by pollsters sampling public opinion is disbelief that any lawmaker would be so stupid as to try to undermine environmental protections. A poll by Linda DiVall for the "Superfund Reform Coalition" (a polluter- financed group seeking to weaken the Superfund law) found that, by more than two to one, voters trust Democrats over Republicans to protect the environment. This includes Republicans: 55 percent of them don't trust their own party to do this job, while 72 percent of the Democrats do trust theirs.

Protecting the environment, it turns out, is something that many Republicans and conservatives care passionately about. Party moderates who don't think that balancing the budget entails poisoning the air, land, and water have formed Republicans for Environmental Protection, a national organization pledged to campaign against anti-environmental candidates. Evangelical Christians (normally a solid Republican voting bloc) who believe it is immoral for humans to undo the work of creation have set up the Evangelical Environmental Network, calling the Endangered Species Act the "Noah's Ark of our day."

"Honoring the Creator of the Earth is not consistent with the destruction of the Earth," says Network founder Calvin DeWitt. "The individual species are really treasured by the Creator, they reflect God's glory, and it's not for us to make the decision to wipe them out." The group was immediately attacked in a joint letter by Representatives Don Young (R-Alaska) and Richard Pombo (R-Calif.), leaders of House efforts to weaken the Endangered Species Act: "Don't use the pulpit to mislead people," they warned the ministers.

Joining the moderates and evangelicals in jumping ship are the free-marketeers. In one of the oddest coalitions of recent years, members of the libertarian Cato Institute and conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute have found common cause with the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and other environmental groups in calling for grazing reform and opposing S.852, the "Public Rangeland Management Act" of Senator Pete Domenici (R-N.M.). That bill would, according to Karl Hess of Cato, "sustain a system that rewards the worst of ranchers, penalizes the best, and makes overgrazing a requirement of public law." To the horror of the free-marketeers, Domenici's bill would codify the current system of corporate welfare and vaporize any hope of an open market in grazing permits. If the freshmen in the House vote according to their espoused free-market principles, says NRDC's Johanna Wald, they will "vote to put an end to the underwriting of private grazing on public lands."

Fiscal conservatives are also fretting over mining law reform. The Western cowboy delegation to Congress sticks loyally by the 1872 Mining Law, which in effect gives away mineral rights on public lands to the first party who asks nicely. But lawmakers on both sides of the fence, concerned about either protecting public lands or reducing the deficit, have managed to maintain a moratorium on further giveaways— thereby blocking the release of $15.5 billion in publicly owned minerals. When the issue came to a vote in the House, Speaker Newt Gingrich worked the floor in favor of the mining companies, going so far as to cast a rare vote himself on the matter. Yet the coalition of environmentalist Democrats and deficit-hawk Republicans still carried the day.

Internal opposition to GOP anti-environmental positions is sometimes grudging, as Republican lawmakers don't want to be mistaken for tree-huggers. When Republican National Committee Chair Haley Barbour opined that efforts to reduce acid rain were "based on popular myths and half-baked theories," even Representative Jerry Solomon (R-N.Y.), one of the House's most conservative members, had to speak up. "I resent being called an environmentalist," he said, "but I'm a conservationist, a hunter, and a fisherman. It has been proven without question that there is an acid rain problem in upstate New York." Solomon has tried to win tougher restrictions on acid rain, but has been frustrated by his own party.

Congressional opposition to the leadership's anti-environmentalism comes not only from the environmental moderates and the deficit hawks, but from freshmen up for re-election and getting the willies from reading the polls. The GOP has "taken a beating this year over missteps in environmental policy," 30 House Republicans complained to Speaker Gingrich this January. "We cannot be seen as using the budget crisis as an excuse to emasculate environmental protection."

The leader of the Republican environmental moderates is Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.), who has taken enormous risks—physical as well as political—trying to turn his party around on the issue. When Boehlert met with Don Young on logging in Tongass National Forest, where Young wants the feds to guarantee at least 2,400 timber jobs at a cost of $30 million a year, House Appropriations Committee Chair Bob Livingston (R-La.) "wedged himself between Young and Boehlert out of fear that the angry, shouting Alaskan would resort to fisticuffs," according to the Anchorage Daily News.

Boehlert's finest hour came in the battle over 17 amendments, or "riders," that Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Texas) had tacked on to the EPA's budget, which would have crippled the agency's ability to enforce environmental laws. In a turning point for the 104th Congress, Boehlert convinced 63 of his GOP colleagues to abandon their party and join House Democrats in voting to ax the riders. "More and more," Boehlert told the electronic news service Greenwire, "my colleagues who did not support us on clean water or the EPA riders are catching hell back home." Even DeLay was forced to concede defeat. "We have lost the debate on the environment," he said. "I can count votes."

So can Newt: he acknowledged the rising clout of the Republican moderates by appointing Boehlert co- chair of a GOP task force whose aim is to come up with a unified Republican environmental policy—a chore made more difficult by the fact that its other co-chair is DeLay, the man who thinks that DDT is "not harmful," that the decision to ban CFCs to reduce ozone depletion "is the result of a media scare," and who is unable to name a single government regulation he favors.

DeLay may be an embarrassment to his party, but he has plenty of company. A substantial number of very high-ranking Republicans—Young, Bob Dole, Dick Armey, James Hansen, and Thomas Bliley, to name but a few—have led the crusade against environmental-protection laws, and are hardly in a position to back down now, despite strong evidence that their approach is turning off voters even within their own party. Having painted themselves into a corner, they may have no choice but to tough it out—and suffer the consequences.

Republicans for Environmental Protection may be contacted at P.O. Box 7073, Deerfield, IL 60014; (847) 940-0320. The Evangelical Environmental Network is at 10 East Lancaster Ave., Wynwood, PA 19096; (800) 650-6600.

Murphy's Laws

1. Hogs rule. 2. You pay.

by Bob Schildgen

Imagine that several thousand people abruptly moved in a half-mile from your home and, instead of hooking up to the sewer system, simply flushed their excrement into an open pool. You probably wouldn't want to put up with it--and neither do the increasing numbers of rural Americans who now find themselves living next to huge colonies of hogs excreting at twice the human rate. Tides of manure and reeking waves of ammonia and hydrogen sulfide mark the replacement of the old-fashioned hog farm by high-tech "confinement facilities" where pigs are jammed onto floors that allow only six or seven square feet per animal and automatically fed, watered, and medicated until they reach a market weight of 250 pounds.

"You always hear them use the term 'state of the art,' Tar Heel, North Carolina, resident Mary Beth Edge told the Raleigh News & Observer. "Well, let me tell you, state of the art stinks."

To save labor in these bacon factories, the pigs' manure is flushed with sprays of water through slatted floors and then into multimillion-gallon "lagoons," whence it leaches into the groundwater or, if sprayed on fields in too great a volume, runs off and pollutes local streams. Sometimes these rudimentary plumbing systems break down, with disastrous consequences. Last summer in northern Missouri, a burst pipe in a high-tech hog-production facility created a gusher that poured a 20,000-gallon stinking flood into Mussel Fork Creek, destroying aquatic life for ten miles downstream. This was a modest trickle compared with other spills last year, including a 25-million-gallon tide that rolled across fields and into North Carolina's New River, killing fish for almost 20 miles downstream. Hog waste has also been implicated in the massive pollution of the state's Neuse River, which became so dangerous it was quarantined for a 35-mile stretch last summer.

Like its liquefied manure, the hog industry flows downhill, to wherever it finds the fewest regulations and the lowest wages. "One reason for the explosive growth in North Carolina is that there's been no control," says Bill Holman, Sierra Club lobbyist there. His state's hog production has almost tripled in this decade, from 5 million in 1990 to 14 million by 1995. The biggest player in North Carolina is Murphy Family Farms, whose down-home name belies its $200 million in hog sales last year and over $150,000 in campaign donations to North Carolina legislators in the past five years. The company's founder, Wendell Murphy, was a state legislator for ten years. By the time he left office in 1992, he had sponsored or supported eight laws that exempt the hog industry from various taxes and regulations. North Carolinians sardonically refer to them as "Murphy's Laws." One actually prevents counties from subjecting hog facilities to local zoning rules on the dubious grounds that these factories are "bona fide farms," and thus exempt.

Bona fide farmers are taking as much of a beating as the environment. Smaller, cleaner hog farms throughout the hog-producing states are being rapidly pushed out of business by the big operations. From 1988 through 1992 alone, 80,000 U.S. farmers stopped raising hogs. "We lost 25 percent of our hog producers in Iowa in the last two years alone, even though the total number of hogs produced hasn't dropped," says Barbara Grabner of PrairieFire Rural Action. "State leaders care more about the number of hogs than people." In February, angry Iowans, fearing a weakening of their laws and creation of loopholes for big producers, protested by presenting Governor Terry Branstad with a mock check for $42,000, a symbol of the campaign contributions he received from owners of big hog operations. But in March money spoke to the state senate, which voted down a bill to give counties authority to set building standards for hog facilities. A less stringent zoning bill did pass the state senate, but faces a more pro- industry state house.

This situation has resulted in new coalitions of farmers and environmentalists. In Missouri, for example, activists are working with farmers and neighbors to pass legislation to force the pig giants to treat their sewage, keep it out of watersheds, and line lagoons with clay to prevent seepage. "We're working closely with farmer groups, and have formed some coalitions I think will be fruitful," says Ken Midkiff of the Ozark Chapter of the Sierra Club. "We've been letting big agribusiness drive a wedge between farmers and environmentalists for too long."

North Carolina residents are pushing legislation to prohibit new facilities near drinking water supplies and wetlands. Along with the basic demand that the hog business be regulated like any other industry, their "animal waste agenda" calls for stronger waste discharge laws, industry-funded cleanup, and vegetated buffer zones along streams and ditches to prevent manure from pouring off into the watershed.

Another strategy is to block the construction or expansion of slaughterhouses, which, fortunately for residents, do fall under local zoning regulations.

"Smithfield Foods processes 4 million hogs a year, and is proposing a slaughtering plant for 2 million more in Bladen County," says Holman. "Iowa Beef Processors [a Nebraska-based company] wants a 4- million-capacity slaughterhouse in Edgecombe County. They're trying to play South Carolina and North Carolina off against each other to get their way." Without increased slaughtering capacity, incentive for factory farms declines because it is less economical to ship the animals long distances. Transportation is already costly for North Carolina hog growers, as a large amount of feed has to be imported from corn belt states.

That a beef processor named after Iowa and based in Nebraska wants to kill hogs in North Carolina is a good indication of the forces that small farmers and environmentalists are up against. The home-grown tycoons like Murphy, who has a 20,000-hog facility in Missouri, are being joined at the trough by a Who's Who of agribusiness, including Arkansas chicken giant Tyson Foods, New York--based Continental Grain, and Minnesota's Cargill, the multinational grain trader whose meat operations alone generate revenues of $9.5 billion a year.

Riding high on the rolling seas of money and manure is Senator Lauch Faircloth (R-N.C.), a "farmer" with $100,000 invested in Smithfield who owns hog outfits reported to be worth $20 million. Known as the "Loch Mess Monster" to his Carolina adversaries, Faircloth cosponsored Senate revisions to the Clean Water Act that would halve the wetlands acreage protected by federal law, opening it up to development. Faircloth has 500 acres in wetlands, but denies any conflict of interest, and the Senate Ethics Committee has ruled that he has not violated the Senate's codes. Some of his constituents, however, are not convinced. "Citizens will have to wonder: Is he helping industry or himself? The Ethics Committee should take another look," said the Charlotte Observer.

As individual states tighten up their laws, the pork barons will continue to cast about for new locations where they meet less resistance from farmers and environmentalists. Four of the top 20 producers, including, Murphy, Carroll's Foods, Prestage Farms, and Smithfield, have already established a pig consortium in Utah's Escalante Valley that is slated to reach a 2-million-hog capacity. Though the industry has begun to admit to its mess (the National Pork Producers Council has budgeted $450,000 for research), it expects taxpayers to spend millions on solutions, through public-university research and efforts like North Carolina's $85,000 study on pig factories' impact on water quality. And its general attitude is that what's good for the pig business is good for its neighbors, apparently even if they have to cultivate an appreciation for the stench of manure. Jeff Turner, manager of a factory farm operation in North Carolina, says, "If you live near an air base and hear the roar of a jet fighter, that's the sound of freedom. If you smell hogs, that's the odor of good, safe, cheap food you can eat three times a day."

If you still have an appetite.

To help North Carolina pass stricter controls on hog factories, call the tourist bureau at 1-800-VISIT NC and say you won't visit the state until laws tighten up. Keeping tabs on the pork business is Corporate Hog Update published by PrairieFire Rural Action, 550 11th St., #200, Des Moines, IA 50309. Subscriptions are $10 a year, with back issues available on request with subscription. For more information on the battle against factory farming, contact Jim Braun of Friends of Rural America at (515) 579-6057 or Aaron Heley Lehman of the Iowa Farmers Union at (515) 382-4725.

Bob Schildgen, copy editor and book review editor at Sierra, became intimately familiar with manure while growing up on a farm in southwestern Wisconsin.

Eco-Thug: Helen Chenoweth

by Paul Rauber

Most of the anti-environmental zealots spotlighted as "eco-thugs" in this column thus far have objected, claiming that they are, in fact, misunderstood nature lovers. No such quibble is likely to come from Idaho Representative Helen Chenoweth (R), who takes the rhetoric of the "War on the Environment" literally.

"We are in a battle today that is far more insidious and dangerous as far as conquering our people and our soul than we have ever faced before," she told an Idaho church group. "Our land has been taken. It's time we reclaim our land."

For the Idaho congressman (as Chenoweth insists on being called), this is a religious war. "There is increasing evidence of a government-sponsored religion in America," she declared on the House floor. "This religion, a cloudy mixture of New Age mysticism, Native American folklore, and primitive Earth worship, is being promoted and enforced by the Clinton administration in violation of our rights and freedoms." Critics scoffed that Chenoweth had finally gone off the deep end, but deep-enders are her core constituency. She rose up through the ranks of the Republican Party in Idaho by representing the John Birch Society, the so-called Wise Users, and the militia movement (for whom the Idaho Statesman calls her the "poster child").

Chenoweth plays to the paranoia of far-rightists by fanning their delusions about mysterious black helicopters supposedly used by federal Fish and Wildlife agents to enforce environmental laws in Idaho. "I have never seen them," Chenoweth admitted to The New York Times. "But enough people in my district have become concerned that I can't just ignore it. We do have some proof."

The congressman also fears that federal environmental regulations are ushering in the one-world government long feared by the Birchers. Her evidence: the United Nations' designation of Yellowstone National Park as a world heritage site. (In real life, the U.N. label means only that the site has "outstanding universal value." The regulations under which it was designated were drawn up by Ronald Reagan's Interior Secretary, James Watt.)

In the Republican sweep in 1994, Chenoweth upset incumbent Democrat Larry LaRocco. Noting her concern with endangered species (her campaign featured an "endangered salmon bake"), House Speaker Newt Gingrich appointed her to the Endangered Species Act task force headed by January/February Eco- Thug Richard Pombo (R-Calif.). Her view of the issue is that "white men are an endangered species."

There are some indications, however, that Gingrich is tiring of Chenoweth, particularly after she bucked him by refusing to vote to reopen the federal government during the budget deadlock. In retaliation, the Speaker stood her up at a long-scheduled fund-raiser in Idaho in January.

But neither official snubs nor public ridicule are likely to moderate the most radical member of a radical Congress. "Never underestimate her," warns Rick Johnson, director of the Idaho Conservation League. "She's the best grassroots organizer this state ever had. The more she talks, the more people laugh, but the more her base loves her."

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