Commentary by Jean Blackwood of Carthage. She is a staunch supporter of preserving the environment--clean air, clean water, and a peaceful solution to world problems.
I'd like to share briefly a little about the experience of lobbying the Missouri Legislature yesterday in opposition to the CAFO bill (and we got in a few licks against the Dirty Secrets bill, too).
Overall, the experience was very depressing. The Capitol was full of other lobbyists, including many disabled people outraged by the proposed Medicaid cuts. Most Reps and Senators were running around like mad attending committee meetings or their sessions, and did not make any special efforts to talk with us - with one extremely nice exception, Rep. Raymond ("Ray") Weter (R-142) from Christian County.
Rep. B.J. Marsh (R-136), who represents some part of the Springfield area, was almost laughable if not so scary. He told us flat out that the only issue he paid any attention to was the name change for SMSU and that he would vote on other issues as his caucus told him to. [Marsh sponsored bills to rename SMSU. He co-sponsored bills to prevent cloning, to limit tort actions, to establish the Betty L. Thompson Scholarship Program and extend charitable contribution deductions, and to create changes to violations in the sunshine law from knowingly to negligently.]
Gus Wagner, an aide to Sen. Dan Clemens (R-20) who was appointed chairman of the Missouri Senate’s Agriculture, Conservation, Parks and Natural Resources committee, was extremely snotty and even sported a Bush smirk as he explained to us that to some the smell of a hog manure lagoon was "the smell of money." He also tried to argue that getting in more CAFOs would create jobs. Yeah, $8/hour, no benefits, going mostly to Hispanic immigants or illegals. I'm not anti-immigrant, but you can't say you are providing jobs for local people if you bring in people from outside to take them. We even witnessed Wagner telling a young woman who was "job shadowing" him that now she could see the worst part of his job, i.e. talking to people like us. When we mentioned something about democracy, the @!** had to come up with that usual line about "this is a republic." Personally, I'm so happy that a quick-witted Pat Tursi reminded him that President Bush keeps talking about us spreading democracy around the world.
SB 187, the Concetration Animal Feeding Operations Bill says:
- County health ordinances would be completely disallowed including taking away local control of where large polluting facilities might be located. No stricter law would be mandated than the State's.
- This bill exempts all but the largest facilities, (which are not likely to be built) from regulation. All Clean Water regulations would only apply to Class IAs. So, that means that 7,000 cows, 17,500 hogs, 700,000 broiler chicks could move next door and you wouldn't have to be notified.
- It also would hand over permit authority from DNR to the Clean Water Commission.
Rep. Walt Bivins (R-97, St. Louis County), a government affairs consultant after working 32-years for Dow Chemical, is the chief supporter of SB130, unaffectionately dubbed the Dirty Secrets bill. SB130 allows self-auditing by potential polluters, making the results private and giving them immunity from prosecution using these results.
The first act of the Bush Administration after his innaugural was to give CAFOs two years immunity from the Clean Air Act as well as from certain toxic discharge standards. The rationale behind recent legislation is to further exempt known polluters from costly litigation and/or expense in keeping their operations in compliance with environmental protection legislation.
We did meet with a couple of allies. They are clearly passionate about the CAFO issue but also very concerned about how things are playing out in Jeff City these days.
Weter's friendly aide got us passes to go right onto the House floor and speak with Weter. He took a long time listening to us. (Cynthia Andre, one of our members, lives in Weter's district.) He didn't commit to anything, but he did bring up the Dirty Secrets bill himself and express his concern about it.
Norma Champion (R-134) gave us a couple of minutes of her time and asked, as several reps did, "Who is behind this bill?" This made me wonder if there were certain people they would not like to cross?
I was unable to directly speak with the representatives from my own area: Gary Nodler, Ed Emery, or Marilyn Ruestman, and could only leave information about the bill that I hope they might read.
It was discouraging to see that these bills can be so far advanced towards passage while most reps don't know anything about them at all. Apparently a lot of them just vote as the party/administration tells them to, while devoting their time to passage of one pet piece of legislation, like the damn name change!
But the positive part of the experience was spending the day with other caring, committed people, including state Sierra director Carla Klein and many members of the Rural Crisis Center and small farmers from around the state. It seems to me these good, honest people are not getting the kind of representative government they pay for.