Environmental Issues Out of Balance,
by Patricia R. McCoy
BOISE -- Society is out of balance on environmental issues, polarized into three camps who see only right or wrong answers.
Agricultural interests are fighting for economic survival, under siege from imports, and from rules and regulations. Agencies and interest organizations want to protect the environment. Urban planners are looking to agriculture for future lands on which to expand, said Kirk Cook, Washington State Department of Agriculture.
Speaking at a water quality conference held here Oct. 19 and 20 as a representative of Washington’s state director of agriculture, Cook said it’s rare for people on any side in an environmental issue to venture into the gray area where compromise and solutions can be found.
Instead, the conversation is all about when the next lawsuit will be filed, or what the next action must be to oppose a proposed regulation, Cook said.
“Things that were true 10 years ago aren’t true today. In some ways, we’re paying for our sins of 10 years ago,” he said.
“We need a healthy give and take, with education for those who have lost touch with the land. Environmentalists need to justify what they’re asking for. Society must decide what risk it’s willing to accept. We can’t just lay everything on the shoulders of agriculture and say no to all pesticides and fertilizers. There’s a price to pay,” Cook said.
Part of the burden must be born by scientists, he said.
“We don’t want junk science that depends on who collects the data, not on what it really says. We must also accept good science. Too often people voice opinions before seeing the data, after which that opinion carries through,” he said.
“Agriculture has been around as long as, or before, this country existed. It will succeed or fail in the next 20 years according to its ability to adapt,” Cook said.
Agriculture will succeed or fail in the next 20 years according to how well it adapts to social, economic and environmental changes currently sweeping the nation, he said.
Cook participated in a panel discussion at the Agriculture and Water Quality in the Pacific Northwest conference. His fellow panelists were Pat Takasugi, director of the Idaho State Department of Agriculture, and Ray Jaindl, representing the director of the Oregon Department of Agriculture.
Takasugi agreed with Cook, noting that societal changes develop from many things.
“The big thing right now is the urban-rural interface and the quality of life. That refers to a million different things, including the dust, odor and smoke that comes from farms. Another big one is jobs. Revenue and profit are foreign to agriculture right now, with a few exceptions,” Takasugi said.
“The thing affecting producers more than anything else right now is third party lawsuits. Various interest groups are using the courts to regulate. Our forefathers wisely set up three divisions in government, separating the legislative and administrative branches from the judicial. Today, courts are implementing and regulating. That’s part of what’s out of balance out there,” he said.
Jaindl opened the panel, describing water quality programs in Oregon.
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