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RICHARD MASON: Back to the 1970s

by RICHARD MASON Special to the Democrat-Gazette | August 5, 2018 at 2:38 a.m.

Members of the present administration in Washington and Little Rock are trying their best to bring back the 1970s--environmentally.

In 1969, a polluted river in Cleveland caught on fire. The Houston ship channel was an oily sewer, New York City's dirty air was almost toxic, and the idea that a person would swim in the Hudson River was considered a joke.

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

Fast forward to 2018 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 role in enforcing mandated regulations. Some states have made a lot more progress than others, 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 emissions 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 a 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 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. They are being assisted by Congress and some individual state agencies. It's is a nationwide rollback, 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 enhance the EPA in its rulemaking, and certainly can have an overall impact on the president's executive directives. What would I give the environmental score for our congressmen, governor, and president?

I'm generous when I give the whole sorry bunch an F without using profanity. Want 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. Nothing has appreciably changed on the watershed except for ... oh, you guessed it ... the hog farm. Each year the hog farm spreads 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 from Big Creek is the Buffalo National River. Only 14 miles of the 150-mile Buffalo are polluted according to the latest tests, but what will future years bring? Answer: More and more pollution until swimming will be restricted, and ultimately the river will resemble a hog farm sewer.

I'm a geologist who knows the topography and the karst (Swiss cheese) Boone Limestone rock strata 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 makes it virtually impossible for the river not to be polluted.

The governor could stop the pollution source tomorrow, but instead he appointed a Beautiful Buffalo River Action Committee--it's hard to say that without laughing--which has no authority to act on the hog farm. It is just a smokescreen. Anyone who follows political maneuvers knows appointing a committee is a politician's way to not act, but to pretend concern about a problem.

The governor is not alone in failing to come to the river's rescue. Congressman Bruce Westerman, at a Hot Springs Coffee with Your Congressman event, was asked: "Congressman, do you believe C & H Hog Farms 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 of a city of 20,000 onto 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.

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 forests into timber 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 companies' hip pocket--right next to their wallets.

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. Based on the sorry environmental record of our elected officials, they will pass it, and we can kiss the bald eagle, the grizzly bear, the gray wolf, and a raft of other species goodbye.

There's a bottom line to all of this, 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 Mason is a registered professional geologist, downtown developer, former chairman of the Department of Environmental Quality Board of Commissioners, past president of the Arkansas Wildlife Federation, and syndicated columnist. Email

Editorial on 08/05/2018

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