Opinion: Feds’ bucks for Lake Champlain just throwing money at problem

Your story “Feds promise $45M for Lake Champlain” (Sept. 1, 2014) is completely (purposely one wonders?) misleading. USDA Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack came to Vermont, the most remote province agriculturally in the country, to make a token, $45 million reinvestment in conventional agriculture. He does this to reassert U.S. agricultural policy, which places 40 million of the world’s most prosperous demographic living along the Eastern seaboard and out-of-state food manufacturers, above clean water and rural prosperity. Yes, conventional agriculture produces mountains of cheap food, if you don’t account for its costs. But out-of-state consumers and food manufacturers get the benefits, we get the rural economic decay and the pollution. Why ever do we want this?
Everyone acknowledges that agriculture is the leading cause of the pollution in the lake. But the problem is not agriculture per se; it is conventional agriculture, which was designed to substitute toxic chemicals for the benign methods of crop rotation, weed control and soil fertility and to externalize their residues into the environment. Vermont’s farmers make barely 1 percent of the nation’s supply of milk and no measurable part of the nation’s supply of meat, fruit, vegetables or fish. The Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets estimates that 95-97 percent of every dollar Vermonters spend on food goes for food imported from elsewhere. Yet, the state appropriates $60-80 million a year to sustain the illusion that we are a farm state; I agree that farming is important to Vermont but why must we pollute the lake to do it?
It is galling that Secretary Vilsack, presumably speaking for Sen. Patrick Leahy, Chuck Ross and Rep. Peter Welch, says that “we’re beginning to understand that we’ll all benefit from healthier lakes and healthier rivers.” Beginning? The secretary allocated $45 million over the last decade for the same purpose and got nothing for it even before “we knew” that clean water was a benefit.
His gift to us at this critical juncture, just before the EPA is due to pass judgment on Vermont’s latest plan, pushes a real solution to nonpoint source pollution in Lake Champlain down the road for another generation. Chuck Ross’ and David Mears’ Draft Phase One Plan will never reverse it or even make a dent in its progress. The plan depends upon buffers, nutrient management plans and voluntary compliance, all tried before and all demonstrably ineffective. The new plan has no actionable mechanism, no quantifiable interim goals, no commitment from the governor or the Legislature; it leaves exquisitely undisturbed the conventional paradigm, which through the Accepted Agricultural Practices rules (1995), permits the importation of 80 million pounds of NPK (nitrogen/phosphorus/potassium) fertilizer to be applied with state support to corn land along our rivers and streams and who knows how many hundreds of thousands of tons of high protein feed supplements. These are together the two most important sources of soluble phosphorus entering the lake and under the plan, these practices are to continue. Most importantly, the plan leaves undisturbed the Memorandum of Understanding (1992), which took responsibility for clean water away from the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, where it belongs, and gave it to Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets, where it most assuredly does not.
Perhaps Sen. Patrick Leahy, Congressman Peter Welch, Gov. Peter Shumlin and his Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Ross could explain to 600,000 Vermonters why, in a state governed almost entirely by Democrats, they insist upon subordinating clean water to the internal requirements of 700 conventional dairy farmers, which is a thoroughly Republican ideal.
James H. Maroney Jr.

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