The Farm Bill Is Chock-Full of Anti-Environment Policy Riders
By Courtney Lindwall
The hyper-partisan farm bill, narrowly passed by the House of Representatives last week, contains dangerous handouts to the chemical industry and Big Ag. If enacted in its current state, the bill would have serious ramifications for small farmers, biodiversity, public health and America's hungry.
Leaders in the Senate are promising a better bill that supports sound agricultural policies. Well, senators, here are seven lowlights in the House bill that deserve special attention. Get your red pens ready!
1. Weaker Pesticide Laws
The farm bill would bar local governments from adopting pesticide laws that are stronger than the federal government's—something particularly concerning, considering the Trump administration's penchant for delaying and rolling back public health protections.
2. Contaminated Drinking Water Sources
It would repeal the Clean Water Rule, which clarifies which waterways are covered by the Clean Water Act's pollution control and cleanup programs. The rule helps protect streams that contribute to the drinking water supplies for one-third of all Americans.
3. More Polluted Waterways
Companies would no longer need a permit to spray hazardous pesticides directly into waterways that Americans use for swimming, fishing, and drinking—even though this is precisely the sort of high-risk scenario the Clean Water Act is meant to prevent.
4. Toxic Giveaway
The bill would weaken restrictions on methyl bromide, a highly toxic pesticide that has caused around 1,000 documented human-poisoning incidents and contributes in a major way to the depletion of the ozone layer. Past administrations wanted to phase out methyl bromide by 2000, allowing its use only in emergency events. The current farm bill would more broadly define what "emergency" means.
5. Hungry Kids and Families
The measure unacceptably targets some of the country's most vulnerable populations, such as families dealing with food insecurity. The farm bill would restrict the available nutritional assistance under the SNAP program, commonly known as food stamps, and could cause nearly a million Americans to lose eligibility. It also would weaken low-income kids' access to fresh fruits and vegetables in their schools.
6. Wildlife at Risk
The Endangered Species Act currently requires the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service before approving a chemical that could harm protected species—a rule that helped ban DDT and bring species like bald eagles back from the brink. The farm bill trashes the requirement, putting endangered species, including pollinators like the rusty patched bumblebee, at risk of deadly pesticide exposure.
7. Goodbye, Small Farms
The bill eliminates the Conservation Stewardship Program, which promotes whole farm stewardship and sustainability in rural communities. To add insult to injury, it would allow mining and drilling on lands in the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, which is supposed to help preserve agricultural lands as working farms.
The White House is assembling a climate change panel to be headed by a known climate denier who once took money from a coal company to testify at a hearing and who has compared criticism of carbon dioxide to Hitler's demonization of the Jews.
William Happer, a Princeton physicist who has never trained as a climate scientist, joined the Trump administration in September 2018 as senior director for emerging technologies at the National Security Council (NSC).
2018 saw a number of studies pointing to the outsized climate impact of meat consumption. Beef has long been singled out as particularly unsustainable: Cows both release the greenhouse gas methane into the atmosphere because of their digestive processes and require a lot of land area to raise. But for those unwilling to give up the taste and texture of a steak or burger, could lab-grown meat be a climate-friendly alternative? In a first-of-its-kind study, researchers from the Oxford Martin School set out to answer that question.
By Gary Paul Nabhan
President Trump has declared a national emergency to fund a wall along our nation's southern border. The border wall issue has bitterly divided people across the U.S., becoming a vivid symbol of political deadlock.
By Daniel Ross
Hurricane Florence, which battered the U.S. East Coast last September, left a trail of ruin and destruction estimated to cost between $17 billion and $22 billion. Some of the damage was all too visible—smashed homes and livelihoods. But other damage was less so, like the long-term environmental impacts in North Carolina from hog waste that spilled out over large open-air lagoons saturated in the rains.
Hog waste can contain potentially dangerous pathogens, pharmaceuticals and chemicals. According to the state's Department of Environmental Quality, as of early October nearly 100 such lagoons were damaged, breached or were very close to being so, the effluent from which can seep into waterways and drinking water supplies.