For the ag groups that rallied their membership against the governor's buffer initiative beginning last winter, the rhetorical chickens are coming home to roost.
And regardless of how the Minnesota Corn Growers might want to soothe those birds (especially since the bill that became law was essentially an industry bill brought to a conference committee), Representative Tim Miller (R-Prinsburg) wants to ruffle farmers' feathers.
Bluestem thinks there can be few other conclusions drawn after reading Tom Cherveny's latest dispatch from the buffer zone, Buffer law: New legislation frustrates some, but lawmakers urge compliance, in the West Central Tribune.
Many farmers are skeptical and upset by the state’s new buffer legislation, but one of the state’s largest farm groups and legislators involved in drafting the bill are urging them to comply with it.
That echoes what the Corn Growers were saying back in mid-May when the language was settled, as St. Paul Pioneer Press staffer Christopher Mangan reported in Compromise reached on waterway buffers:
Under a deal reached in the early hours of Sunday morning, existing laws should be better enforced and local soil and water conservation districts will work with farmers to protect public and private waterways.
By 2020, there will be 50 foot buffers between all public waterways and annual agricultural row crops. Many waterways already require buffer strips, but enforcement is inconsistent.
The deal requires 16.5 foot buffers around public ditches by 2022 and instructs soil and water conservation districts to work with farmers to find resources to protect private ditches.
Adam Czech, spokesman for the Minnesota Corn Growers Association, said the deal was a good compromise between existing law and the governor’s vision.
Representative Miller is having none of this, Cherveny reports, instead claiming there's no water quality issues, simply Those People Who Say Mean Things About Us:
Representative Tim Miller, R-Prinsburg, said he too is concerned about “mission creep’’ and the possibility of future demands for larger buffers.
He was among those who warned that agriculture faces a public image challenge when it comes to water quality. “You cannot understand the misperception of what you’re doing out here,’’ said the legislator. Miller said there are those who think “we have a love canal out here’’ and “cesspools” and “refuse floating down your ditches right now.’’
While Governor Dayton used the term "cesspool" as part of the debate in March, Bluestem could find no example of anyone comparing Minnesota agriculture to Love Canal or discussing "refuse" floating in ditches. Miller appears to be committed to inventing inflammatory rhetoric, then attributing it to others.
That being the case, perhaps it's time to revisit Dayton's "cesspool" comment before Miller turns it into a totally free-floating signifer. In Mark Dayton: Farmers should 'look into their souls' on buffer plan, Pioneer Press reporter Dave Orrick reported:
Laying the blame for many of the state's polluted waters squarely at the feet of agriculture, Gov. Mark Dayton on Thursday asked Minnesota farmers to "look into their souls" and support his proposal to buffer nearly every public water in the state from row crops and their associated runoff.
"You have a right to operate your land for lawful purposes, but you don't have the right to dump your runoff and create cesspools where the rest of Minnesotans wants to enjoy it and where wildlife wants to enjoy it," Dayton said, raising the rhetoric on a plan that was inspired by a summit of pheasant hunters and is now being touted as a significant way to protect water quality by reducing erosion and pollution runoff.
"Most farmers, I think, are good stewards, but there are some out there who I guess don't share that view, and what they're doing, unfortunately, is contaminating water that everybody uses, that everybody needs to use," Dayton, flanked by several members of his cabinet and Democratic lawmakers, said at a news conference designed to push back at farm groups opposing the measure.
That's hardily "Love Canal." Miller's reference to it is peculiar in the context of the buffers debate. According to The Love Canal Tragedy, a 1979 article posted on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website:
. . . In the 1920s the seeds of a genuine nightmare were planted. The canal was turned into a municipal and industrial chemical dumpsite.
Landfills can of course be an environmentally acceptable method of hazardous waste disposal, assuming they are properly sited, managed, and regulated. Love Canal will always remain a perfect historical example of how not to run such an operation.
In 1953, the Hooker Chemical Company, then the owners and operators of the property, covered the canal with earth and sold it to the city for one dollar.
It was a bad buy.
In the late '50s, about 100 homes and a school were built at the site. Perhaps it wasn't William T. Love's model city, but it was a solid, working-class community. For a while. ...
The Wikipedia entry for Love Canal has more about the legacy of the housing development built on an industrial landfill:
Love Canal, along with Times Beach, Missouri, are important in United States environmental history as the two sites that in large part led to the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA). CERCLA is commonly referred to as "Superfund" because of the fund established by the act to help the clean-up of toxic pollution in residential locations such as Love Canal. It has been stated that Love Canal has "become the symbol for what happens when hazardous industrial products are not confined to the workplace but 'hit people where they live' in inestimable amounts."
We do remember discussion of metro landfill cleanup funds in the run-up to the special session, but it wasn't directly related to the Governor's buffers bill. Perhaps Miller simply doesn't remember the flurry of activity leading up to that point, and he has mixed up the two distinctly different issues that were crammed into one ginormous omnibus budget bill.
Let's hope that his good friends at the Corn Growers unsnarl this for him before he incites more of their membership against the compromise language the producers' group worked so hard to pass.
As for that "cesspool"? Wikipedia provides a literal discussion here, while Oxford Dictionaries includes denotative and connotative meaning. What conditions are Minnesotans facing that might prompt the use of the word? Orrick reported:
Dayton's decision to point the finger at agriculture is bolstered by growing concern over the state's failing waters voiced by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
Last week, the agency released a study of 93 streams in agriculture-heavy southwest Minnesota in the Missouri River basin. Of those, only three streams could fully support aquatic life and only one had low enough levels of E. coli bacteria to be considered safe for swimming. None passed both tests.
"It's frightening, the lack of the ability of the waters to support aquatic life and the threat to human health and human safety to be in those waters," Dayton said, adding later: "And you look at that southwest part of the state, it's not heavily industrial or large manufacturing. It's agriculture. So let's face reality and say this is agriculture runoff that is causing this deterioration."
MPCA Commissioner John Linc Stine said it was impossible to predict the exact impacts of buffers along the banks of those waterways, but he said buffers would "dramatically improve" the water quality by reducing nitrogen and phosphorous runoff from farm fields.
Publicly, the farm groups aren't disputing that, but are arguing Dayton's plan is too rigid and takes rights away from farmers without compensation.
Photo: Barrels of toxic chemicals in the Love Canal urban landfill. Via the IDR Environmental Services blog. None of Bluestem's sources recalls anyone bringing up Love Canal during the buffers debate.
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