Letter from Langdon: WOTUS World

We hear a lot about how a proposed water-protection rule would affect family farmers. But the folks pushing hardest against the Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) are corporations. That’s because they like the sweet deal they are currently getting: The public purse pays to clean up their private messes.



A hog waste lagoon in Beaufort County, North Carolina, pink from bacteria.

Sometimes rules are important, but let me be first to admit it.

I hate rules.

On the other hand … take financial markets for instance. We thought we had rules to protect us, but $426 billion in bailouts is what it cost U.S. taxpayers to prevent financial Armageddon when a few big banks crossed the line.

What happens if big corporations control water quality?

If for no other reason than corporate excess, America needs rules.

That's why the Environmental Protection Agency has proposed new clean Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rules that will help protect water quality in America for generations to come.

Over the last couple of years, Missouri's General Assembly has liberalized foreign ownership of Missouri livestock and farmland. Shuangui Limited, a foreign corporation bankrolled by the Chinese government, has taken over Smithfield Foods with holdings in Missouri and 25 other states. 

One reason the Chinese government must diversify here is due to the fact that 40% of China's farmland is polluted and unfit for food production.

But Smithfield isn't the only vertically integrated, concentrated livestock operation in Missouri. Instead of family farms, they and three other very large corporations control 70% of U.S. pork production from conception to supermarket.

That's what vertical integration is all about.

Our neighboring state to the north, Iowa, has had experience with corporate livestock dating to the 1970s. Now, nitrate buildup is levying its painful price on Iowa's efforts to protect safe drinking water.

Agriculture is seen as the culprit.

The fact is, without rules, the cost of protecting and purifying America’s drinking water could make bank bailouts seem insignificant. So why has EPA's Clean Water Rule been vilified as excessive overregulation?

My organization, the Farmers Educational and Cooperative Union of America, known also as National Farmers Union, has expended countless hours educating EPA and its administrator, Gina McCarthy, about agriculture. While many of my farmer friends in the Dakotas still have reservations about proposed regulation and permitting of ephemeral streams (streams that only flow part of the time) and prairie potholes, here in Missouri our concerns about ditches and storm drainage from excessive rainfall have been alleviated. EPA has stated clearly that previously unregulated practices of agriculture will remain as they always have been— unregulated.

But for that interpretation of WOTUS rules to work, two things must happen. First, you'd have to believe what EPA says. That might be a problem. It's hard for farmers to trust bureaucrats when a storm of complicated paperwork might fall out of the sky and wipe us out. Some farms are equipped to handle government tsunamis and some aren't. Especially family farms. 

It's scary to think that one wet year could suddenly unleash regulations we thought didn't exist.

Tens of thousands in government fines could bankrupt most of us.

Second, you'd have to believe farmers who say everything they do is justified because of who they are. There's not much mea culpa in farm country these days – even in Iowa where excess manure and other farmer-applied plant nutrients can be traced back to the top of the farm field hill where it came from.