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 Steve Penfield Archive
Swimming in the Government Sewage
While green activists focus on non-stop climate crisis, other important environmental issues have been brewing for decades. Time for a closer look.
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As a longtime observer of environmental affairs and 25-year veteran of the green industry, I’ve often been amazed at the polarized nature of debate on modern ecological topics, as well as some major oversights that have developed. The two main environmental subjects that EPA and its allies can’t shoot straight about involve reckless government sewage and stormwater handling—a source of thousands of public beach closures and millions of associated sick swimmers each year—and the routine fish kills, multiple large aquatic “dead zones” and other widespread problems caused by our heavily subsidized agribusiness.

EPA, various green groups and their friends in Legacy media are well aware of all this. But for the most part, they keep to the script of blaming all environmental harm on “corporate polluters” while concocting poor excuses to downplay government malfeasance.

With many environmental organizations promoting anti-industry fear to solicit contributions from their supporters—and with conservative/pro-business types permanently in defense mode pushing back on those narratives—these major pollution topics get little coverage and virtually zero traction in mainstream media or among the general public. At most, some hardcore environmentalists occasionally rail against “factory farms,” the one segment of agribusiness it’s OK to hate. But even that coverage is usually slanted for political purposes.

The many aspects of government pollution are all problematic. But all are drenched in power politics that most in Washington would rather not disturb. Admitting that non-industrial operators cause pollution threatens not only the entrenched message of the Green Lobby, but also the pristine image of the powerful Farm Lobby and the “progressive” aura of big-city political machines. These pollution sources lead to trouble waters in a variety of ways.

The twin pillars of government pollution are the skyrocketing usage of USDA-backed chemical fertilizers since 1945 and the 16,000 government-run (patronage laden) sewage treatment systems. The latter may work well during dry weather, but after a rain event soaks into porous sewer networks, anything goes, with EPA’s full approval. The option of privatizing the operations of any of these municipal monopolies with periodic competitive bidding is fiercely opposed by pro-government activists as well as civil service unions.

Farm Lobby advocates often claim chemical fertilizers are completely “natural” and nothing new, both assertions being false. Nitrogen is pulled from the air by a complex set of industrial steps known as the Haber–Bosch process. Phosphates are mined and purified at industrial facilities like this one in Florida. Chemical fertilizers have been a tremendous success for feeding a hungry world, but they create side-effects that still need to be addressed. Much of the nitrogen and phosphorous in fertilizers get absorbed into crops, fed to animals, then deposited as animal manure. The rest of it builds up in the soil or gets flushed into nature.

Subsidized agribusiness (FY 2020 USDA budget $150 billion, 91,000 agency staffers) gets a free pass to deposit over 20 millions of tons of chemical fertilizers and over a billion of tons of bacteria- and nutrient-rich animal manure right onto porous ground surfaces each year with little or no attempt at abatement. Much of that noxious stew is carried away via surface water or groundwater any time it rains, becoming major causes of nitrate contamination in drinking water wells, widespread river and lake pollution (according to EPA’s National Water Quality Inventory, which was more robust in the past), routine and substantial fish kills, and large “dead zones” in the Gulf of Mexico, Chesapeake Bay and scores of other locations.

While human waste is now collected and treated (except when it’s raining), very little effort goes to manage the mountains of animal waste created by the billions of chickens, pigs, cows and other tasty critters served up to consumers each year. Using the most conservative of available figures, at least 1.4 billion tons of livestock manure is produced each year in the U.S., which is roughly 130 times the amount of human waste generated annually in the nation. (Those manure figures come from a 1997 report from Tom Harkin, then-U.S. Senator from Iowa and strong supporter of agribusiness.) Whether that waste is stored in leaky open-air lagoons or spread haphazardly on broken soil, significant amounts seep into groundwater and cascade off of farmland whenever it rains. Downstream rivers, lakes and shorelines get hit with a tidal wave of this filth.

Regarding farm pollution, I’m intentionally avoiding the controversies about trace pesticide residues in food. Pesticides tend to be an obsession of some anti-chemical purists that I have reviewed and don’t find significant enough for discussions involving national environmental policy. Without the use of pesticides, there would be tens of billions in annual crop losses to weeds and insect damage in the U.S. alone.

On the topic of human sewage, as detailed later in this essay, EPA frequently boasts of the billions they helped spend for building and upgrading thousands of government-run wastewater facilities like the one pictured above. But high-tech equipment become irrelevant when leaky sewer pipes overload the plant causing pollution to bypass treatment and trigger waves of beach closings. Government’s inability to fix this longstanding problem beckons the old saying: “We can put a man on the moon” … but not handle this?

After decades of neglect, it looks like Lake Erie is headed backwards to routine beach closures and floating green algae blankets most summers. (EPA and environmentalists rarely admit why this once “dead” lake recovered in the 1970s. I’ll get to that important but forgotten victory.) Smelly, thick, toxic algae blooms fed from animal waste and chemical fertilizers—veritable rivers of “farm sewage”—wreak havoc at popular beaches from Ohio to Florida and harm every state across the U.S. farm belt.

Similar toxic algae blooms, oxygen-free aquatic dead zones, fish kills and beach closures are now a global phenomenon. The British magazine The Week reported on beach closures and algae blooms in France last summer. A story this year from UPI news leads off with “Record amounts of seaweed this summer have caused historic damage to beaches and cut tourism in Florida, Mexico and the Caribbean”; that article provides weak excuses that I’ll address in the Florida section of this essay. Pollution around China is so notorious that a single link to their algae problems barely does justice, although that article is quite good (scroll down in the prior link for a global map of 500 aquatic dead zones).

For this essay, I’ll stick primarily with American problems. Since we haven’t figured out a viable solution, there’s no sense in scolding the rest of the world. The first-third of this essay deals primarily with the travails surrounding government stormwater and sewage discharges—issues that mostly affect local residents or tourists in urban and suburban areas. The latter two-thirds address some of the many difficulties associated with farm pollution.

60-Second Op-Ed break for why concise articles are usually better than books. Partly in response to some previous comments on “long” article length, a few words are in order to challenge prevailing literary orthodoxy. To avoid the politicized world of modern book publishing, the long-format 500,000-word exhaustive manifesto approach was ruled out before I started typing the first line many years ago. Some of the problems with that highly subsidized format include full-time authors with no independence and/or little real-world experience, a tendency towards isolationism and single-issue extremism, and rampant hidden agendas. While grant-chasing academics rave about their beloved paper horcruxes ad nauseum, I find the anti-social nature of the monologue teaching style to be problematic and prone to pandering. Although a dialogue communication method would usually be preferred, I’ll settle for a comparatively shorter essay at a non-partisan publisher, with direct referencing web links and a “robust” comments section. I’d call that progress.

On the other hand, to keep this essay manageable for one or two extended sittings, I’ve skipped other significant farm anomalies. Important but omitted topics include: 1) the tremendous wasting of water to grow crops in arid parts of the nation, 2) environmentalists’ correct assertion that meat consumption creates a bigger impact on the environment than growing vegetables, due to the heavy fertilizer inputs and water usage for animal farming; to what degree coercive government policy is “needed” to achieve any green goals is another matter entirely, 3) EPA double standards on minor construction erosion vs. the much bigger issue of ongoing farm erosion and the expensive river dredging and dam sedimentation it causes, 4) the flimsy evidence and meanspirited assault against Monsanto for developing its beneficial herbicide Roundup—a product so safe that critics and trial lawyers resort to speech policing to make their twisted case. (There’s something really perverse when productive industries get worse courtroom treatment than suspected murderers and rapists. That’s the beauty of our “dual justice” system.)

For a snapshot on farm pollution (much more to come), I’ll lead off with the following national map of nitrate pollution from the U.S. Geological Survey published in 2006. The graphic is based on sampling from about 2,300 shallow groundwater wells, which they define as typically less than 5 meters deep, and associated computer modeling. This map is more reflective of nitrate surface pollution than contamination in deeper drinking water wells.

According to EPA’s annual Right to Know program, any aqueous nitrate compound is a reportable “toxic chemical” when used in excess of 5 tons per year by industries, even if nothing is discharged. Yet somehow, unlimited use and discharge of any nitrate compounds—in far greater quantities from agricultural fertilizers—is completely exempt from Right to Know reporting. In general, farm pollution is exempt from most U.S. environmental rules. This special treatment of agribusiness—staunchly guarded by USDA and the Farm Lobby—has allowed nitrates and other farm pollutants to environmentally accumulate across vast sections of the nation with little public attention.

Based on the USGS map of nitrate groundwater concentrations (generally coinciding with the presence of agriculture) farm pollution is now experienced from Washington and California across to Delaware, North Carolina and Florida, and throughout most of the Midwest. To get shallow groundwater nitrate levels to jump from below 1 mg/L (normal) to even 3 or 4 mg/L (light blue on the map)—over a few square miles, let alone an entire state—requires enormous chemical inputs. So this map, along with other evidence of present harm (not futuristic projections) caused by farm pollution, are anything but alarmist.

Dangerous Double Standards

I should probably mention up front my observation that private-sector industries are wildly over-regulated (discussed towards the end), although this harassment directly benefits the consulting engineering firms I’ve always worked for. I’m just an employee, not an owner; I get paid whether the rules make sense or not. And I’m not receiving payment for this writing.

With government-oriented pollution, political handling of bad actors works just the opposite as experienced by the private sector. Government polluters get coddled and subsidized as a general rule, and never face criticism as “polluters” in public. Government sewage dumping and socialized farm pollution draws no interest whatsoever from the conservative and libertarian camps, whom one might expect to pounce on these topics (if framed correctly). Their understandable hostility to anything sounding “green” sends them off the trail immediately. Liberal environmental groups have paid some mild and usually misguided attention to these topics over the years, but typically lose interest as soon as donations dry up from lack of an industrial ogre.

The profound double standards on public-sector vs. private-sector pollution goes beyond petty politics. When it comes to industrial pollution as well as pesticides, EPA and other public health officials use high-dose animal toxicology tests to project a dubious one-in-a-million lifetime adverse human response. That ostensible “extreme caution” quickly melts away when it comes to the major sources of government-subsidized pollution. For the trillions of gallons of urban stormwater discharges, municipal sewage dumping, and the foul runoff from socialized farming, associated pollutants like nitrates in drinking water, bacteria at public beaches and low-oxygen in lakes and estuaries are deemed completely “safe” unless they immediately sicken or kill large numbers of people or fish.

These double standards are problematic in all areas mentioned above. One particular discrepancy I’ll start with is Washington’s refusal to establish ANY long-term (or “chronic”) exposure limits to its controversial 10 milligram per liter (mg/L) short-term (or “acute”) nitrate standard for drinking water, established in 1962 and now managed by EPA. That short-term nitrate standard is apparently exceeded by many thousands of groundwater wells in the nation—where people may be consuming polluted water for years.

Rather than alert the public in any meaningful way, EPA clouds the discussion with incomprehensible data and stock photos of family purity, as shown on EPA’s main website on the topic. Unlike the national hysteria over elevated lead levels in Flint, Michigan’s tap water a few years ago, mass media also refrain from stern warnings of “poisoning” or “toxic” chemicals when murmuring about widespread nitrate contamination.

Side Bar on Today’s ‘Silent Green’: Almost two months into the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that began on April 20, 2010—with so few actual animals being harmed—Legacy media spread fear of potential future injuries, as with this June 14, 2010 Newsweek cover. Just inside the magazine, their table of contents page featured a display of over a dozen white crosses implanted on a lawn in Louisiana—with the words “Summer Fun”, “Walking the Dog on the Beach”, “Gumbo” and other shoreline classics scrawled in black, signifying the anticipated deaths of these natural pleasures.

Eight years later, EPA’s quiet (probably low-ball) estimate for 2018 of 35,530 days of beach closures and advisories against swimming among America’s roughly 3,900 monitored beaches elicits only yawns from the same journalist watchdogs, as discussed below. As detailed in the Fish Kills section of this essay, millions of dead animals likely caused by farm pollution triggers scant concern from EPA, environmentalists and major media.

Thankfully, another federal agency shows more independence than EPA or the mass media. The U.S. Geological Survey’s 2006 study on nitrates in drinking water wells noted that “adverse effects are associated with nitrate concentrations as low as 2.5 mg/L” and “Recent studies have associated nitrate in drinking water with several types of cancer,” citing four other scientific studies to support the cancer claim. A separate USGS study published in 2010 estimated:

more than 1.2 million people live in areas predicted to have moderate nitrate contamination of groundwater (greater than 5 mg/L but less than or equal to the MCL [maximum contaminant level] of 10 mg/L).

My point here is not necessarily that large numbers of rural Americans run a significant risk of getting cancer. That’s a scientific matter for others to settle. My point is that EPA has a completely different set of scales when regulating pollution originating from the private sector and the public sector. One is ridiculously strict; the other is rather lenient.

Another reason I won’t dwell on the nitrate groundwater issue beyond this paragraph: it’s almost entirely a LOCAL issue. States and local jurisdictions can always be more strict than federal EPA standards. If local residents want cleaner well water, it’s up to them to change local laws or move to an area with city water services. If I lived in a house with well water, I would always drink bottled water. No one should need a federal program for that.

The other protracted public issues surrounding government pollution are more troubling and often cross state boundaries. Instead of taking any of these major problems seriously, EPA would much rather talk about “climate change”—a topic where they have nothing to lose. Federal bureaucrats coincidentally stand to reap political profits and job security if any of the multi-trillion dollar social overhaul plans become implemented. Non-profit environmental groups and subsidized college professors also prefer this righteously lucrative quest. All such parties usually forget to admit that their relentless fury is over a 1°C rise in global temperatures over the last century. (For an alternate view, here’s an article from Collective Evolution on the many flaws of climate doom, including a good video from the co-founder of Greenpeace.)

Even if some or most of that temperature increase does come from man-made sources (which is debatable) there is no need for immediate panic to “ACT NOW!” Five or ten more years of data collection and “refining the models” won’t harm anyone. Every additional year of dawdling on government-related pollution causes significant, proven damage affecting millions of people in the U.S. and probably billions elsewhere.

The Principles Behind any Legitimate Pollution Policy

As much as I don’t care for ideologues who incessantly reiterate their enshrined principles—to the neglect of any realistic solutions—I’ll agree that any good policy should have some legitimate philosophy to stand on. Unfortunately, professional pundits of various persuasions usually offer false choices of: A) millions of arbitrary rules enforced on everyone, B) only rules imposed on unpopular minorities, or C) no rules whatsoever, coupled with blind faith that the “marketplace” will magically sort everything out.

A better option rarely mentioned among the chattering classes: establishing and enforcing clear LIMITS on harmful actions imposed on others—such as pollution or speeding or drunk driving or other tangible actions that can be proven to cause harm, where no voluntary market remedy is available. Meaningful prohibitions on toxic products like leaded gasoline or phosphate detergents can also be useful, when safer alternatives exist. But full prohibition is not appropriate for products discussed in this essay.

Limits (or progressive thresholds) on harmful activity put the focus on real outcomes, not ambiguous thought crimes of “intent.” Giving people wide latitude to comply with a few objective limits, where necessary, maximizes efficiency and freedom of choice—as opposed to maximizing political power and opacity. By their nature, objective limits curb the damage from trouble makers abusing the public for personal gain.

One of the better programs managed by EPA is the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) that establish objective thresholds on various air pollutants like “smog” (ground-level ozone), particulate dust, sulfur dioxide and a few other common emissions. Congress mandated the NAAQS approach in the 1970 Clean Air Act, when politicians were thinking somewhat more rationally—although air pollution is rarely an interstate issue.

Doing Too Much on the Little Things… Almost Nothing on Major Problems

On overall environmental affairs, we have a rare category where state and federal authorities arguably do WAY TOO MUCH of the wrong things yet completely fail in their objectives on other daunting local and interstate pollution matters. With most mainstream observers preoccupied arguing for or against climate action, and devout eco-puritans obsessed exclusively with industrial pollution—these problems have been festering for decades.

Few people probably give much thought to where wastewater goes after it gets flushed down the toilet or swirled down the shower drain. The answer: any of the nation’s 16,000 municipal sewage plants. These facilities are almost always owned and operated by local government. In the first three decades of EPA’s existence, the agency helped dispense over $100 billion in federal tax dollars to upgrade municipal wastewater facilities or build new ones altogether. By inserting EPA into the grant application review process, Congress threw away any pretense of objective oversight. This conflict of interest is even more profound with the EPA-USDA farm pollution “management plans” (I’ll get to those)—kind of like the Dallas Cowboys hiring the same people to manage the team and referee the game. A totally flawed concept, but “good enough” for most in Washington.

The alternative of establishing and enforcing pollution limits even-handedly—rain or shine—on all participants was rejected long ago. The excitement of handing out billions in urban and suburban pork was evidently too irresistible. In all the commotion, the longstanding problem of leaking sewer networks—inundating sewage plants with massive amounts of infiltration every time it rains—was another lapse of judgment.

On the topic of just how “socialized” farming has become, the hefty U.S. Department of Agriculture budget of $150 billion (which doesn’t all go directly into farmers’ pockets) does not include the ethanol mandates, generous property tax breaks, special exemptions to utilize immigrant labor, or the cut-rate water prices granted to agribusiness. Abusing taxpayers and the environment is hardly “new” to the subsidized farming community. These are the same guys who drained millions of acres of wetlands (see Figure 5), plowed down even greater swaths of drought-resistant prairie grass and brought us the horizon-darkening Dust Bowl of the 1930s—easily the worst man-made environmental catastrophe in American history. With help from major media, the Farm Lobby still insists that deadly assault was totally, utterly, completely not their fault!

U.S. Beach Closures

On the growing problem of beach closures, it wouldn’t quite be correct to say that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is doing nothing. They’re actually in heavy spin mode, consistently downplaying the problem with passive language about “runoff” and “overflows” to put people at ease. They also maintain a slick Beaches website that shows pristine shorelines with frolicking children. (EPA only uses the term “dumping” for private-sector discharges.)

EPA’s prime offering on the subject is its annual Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health (BEACH) report. Their most recent 2018 edition was a paltry 3 pages. On page 2, we learn that “Almost half (47 percent) of coastal and Great Lakes beaches in the United State were monitored in 2018.” In other words, over half of America’s beaches are still not monitored at all. EPA felt this major finding warranted a single sentence.

On the last page of the EPA BEACH report, we get another single sentence mentioning “Notification actions were reported on 35,530 days” in 2018 among America’s roughly 3,900 monitored beaches. “Notification action” is jargon for when beaches are closed or have posted advisories against swimming.

EPA neglects to mention that these figures are based on self-reporting by the same government staff who run the beaches and desperately want vacation tax dollars flowing into state coffers. EPA also claims that 95% of the time, beaches are “safe for swimming,” which is debatable due to lax health standards on beach water quality. Any day of beach closure would be a big deal if your summer vacation was canceled by a sign reading “Beach Closed. No Swimming Allowed.”

To see a more professional beach report, California’s private non-profit group Heal the Bay’s annual Beach Report Card seems to be the gold standard for coastal water quality assessments. A related article on beach closures in USA Today begins to touch on why this is such a sensitive topic to tax-hungry state and local authorities:

Los Angeles’ recreation department referred inquiries to the California Coastal Commission, which issued a statement that said curtailing pollution is a high priority: “Our $45 billion a year coastal economy depends on keeping the water and beaches clean.”

If you happen to stumble across EPA’s Nutrient Indicators Dataset, which is not well publicized, you’ll read that:

Recent estimates suggest that nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in freshwaters [ignoring ocean pollution] costs the U.S. at least $2.2 billion annually, with the greatest losses attributed to diminished property values and recreational uses of water (Dodds et al. 2009).

Decades ago, this type of report was filed away in a dusty bookshelf and forgotten about, until the next round of research funding became available. Now, it collects cyber dust.

EPA’s Conflicted Interests: Paying Polluters to Pollute while also Playing ‘Eco-Cop’

Contrary to common belief, there was already widespread progress in water pollution prior to the creation of the federal Environmental Protection Agency in 1970. Throughout the 1950s and 60s, U.S. cities and towns were upgrading their sewage treatment facilities from “primary” treatment (such as settling tanks) to “secondary” treatment (including aeration systems to biologically remove organisms). These government-owned facilities are commonly referred to as Publicly Operated Treatment Works or POTWs.

EPA’s 2004 Report to Congress on Combined Sewer Overflows and Sanitary Sewer Overflows (CSOs and SSOs) states:

  • 30 percent of POTWs (3,529 of 11,784) provided secondary treatment in 1950.
  • 72 percent of POTWs (10,052 of 14,051) provided secondary treatment in 1968.
  • 99 percent of 16,024 POTWs provided secondary or greater treatment, or were “no-discharge facilities,” in 1996.

It appears that nearly all of the sewage treatment plant (POTW) progress between 1950 and 1968 came from state and local funding. The 1956 Clean Water Act only allocated $0.15 billion to Construction Grants for sewage plant upgrades. EPA does not specify how much federal funding was provided during the next decade but states: “Additional construction grant funding was authorized with the 1961, 1965, and 1966 [Clean Water Act] amendments.”

The 1972 Federal Water Pollution Control Act (a.k.a. the official “Clean Water Act”) merely put a sloppy and expensive band-aid on the wound. Washington’s solution in 1972: spend federal tax money to reward the political machines of big city sewage polluters.

According to EPA’s 2004 Report to Congress on CSOs and SSOs “between 1970 and 2000, the federal government invested more than $122 billion in the nation’s wastewater infrastructure” in 2000 dollars. In their excitement to “save” the planet and spend taxpayer money, Congress and EPA overlooked a crucial detail. Even the most high-tech sewage treatment facilities don’t work when they get inundated with incoming sewage and stormwater every time it rains. As it turns out, government-run sewage plants accidentally receive massive amounts of infiltration from leaking sewer networks. EPA estimates that local governments own about 584,000 miles of sewer pipes. After a heavy rain, many (probably most) of the nation’s thousands of municipal sewage plants dump partially treated wastewater into the nearest receiving water body, usually out of sight from the general public. And EPA has successfully fought to have this practice remain fully legal.

The last time Congress tasked EPA with reporting on government sewage affairs, in 2004, the agency estimated that combined storm-and-sanitary sewers (found in older cities around the Great Lakes and Northeast) annually discharge 850 billion gallons of untreated sewage and stormwater—equivalent to 13 days of flow from Niagara Falls. Combined sewers discharge 80 times the fecal coliform load compared to all treated wastewater discharged by the nation’s sewage treatment facilities, per EPA data.

In EPA’s own words from that same report (page 2-9):

In 1980, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit accepted EPA’s interpretation of the Clean Water Act that discharges at CSO [Combined Sewer Overflow] outfalls are not discharges from POTWs and thus are not subject to the limits based on secondary treatment standards otherwise applicable to POTWs.

CSO discharge volumes are nothing compared to the torrent of 10 trillion gallons of untreated urban stormwater discharged to public rivers, lakes and beaches by municipalities each year. This tsunami of dirty street runoff tainted with gasoline, food scraps, tire residues and oil drippings contains 2.4 million tons of suspended solids and over 20 times the fecal coliform load than all the treated wastewater discharged by the entire country, according to EPA’s 2004 Report to Congress (page 4-29).

To give some comparison to the “good” discharges from American sewage plants, EPA estimates (A) 11.43 trillion gallons of treated wastewater annually disposed by public municipalities, with a median concentration of (B) 200 counts of fecal coliforms per 100 milliliters (mL). EPA estimates untreated urban stormwater runoff to be much more polluted, with about 5,100 counts of fecal coliforms per 100 mL. (Drinking water, in contrast, must have zero counts of fecal bacteria or other coliforms per 100 mL to pass EPA standards for human consumption. 100 mL is roughly one-tenth of a quart, or about one large mouthful.)

To comprehend the total municipal fecal coliform load to the environment for the latter waste stream, multiply A x B x 37.85 (conversion factor for units of “100 mL” per gallon) x 22.4 times worse based on field data. This gives you a really huge number (194 with 16 trailing zeroes)—EPA’s estimate just for annual fecal bacteria discharges in segregated urban stormwater. This wastewater is considered so “clean” that virtually no one bothers to treat it. (City stormwater contains other pollutants as well, but I’ll just focus on the tail end here.)

Multiplying that unfathomable number with 16 trailing zeroes times about 3.6 gives you EPA’s estimate for fecal coliform load to the environment from combined storm-and-sanitary sewer “overflows” annually. One swallow of combined sewer potpourri (perhaps while swimming at a public beach) could send you to the hospital. But at least your “privacy rights” would be secure, since Legacy media would most likely ignore your suffering.

Getting Sick from Sewage

When you add it all up, the public sewer fiasco amounts to some troubled waters to dive into. Swimming in partially treated wastewater has long been known to cause human illness. But the question of how much sickness is less clear, and not something EPA likes to publicly talk about. This topic also rarely receives mainstream attention.

Looking back quite a bit, the June 12, 2000 issue of U.S. News and World Report mentioned a preliminary study done for the EPA that estimated over 1 million Americans get sick each year just from sanitary sewage overflows. (From my discussions with associated EPA staff two years later, the agency apparently never released the final version.) In another brief disclosure, EPA pitched similar figures—strictly as an opportunity, though, not a problem. Buried in a 1999 report to Congress, EPA claimed that “up to 500,000 cases of illness will be avoided annually” just by “reducing” stormwater pollution with their programs.

Current beach sickness data seems to be both worse yet possibly more opaque. Giving credit where much is due, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has been the national leader on reporting beach closure activity since 1991—long before EPA offered any public attention to the topic. NRDC’s 2014 Testing the Waters report states: “The EPA has estimated that up to 3.5 million people become ill from contact with raw sewage from sanitary sewer overflows [SSOs] each year.” (This excludes combined sewers and polluted stormwater, which discharge nearly 50 times the fecal load as SSOs.) Besides the fact that EPA is staying quiet on this important finding, NRDC’s footnote to that figure raises eyebrows to say the least:

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, NPDES Permit Requirements for Municipal Sanitary Sewer Collection Systems, Municipal Satellite Collection Systems, and Sanitary Sewer Overflows, January 4, 2001, withdrawn January 20, 2001. (bold added)

NRDC adds that “Many public health experts believe the number of illnesses caused by untreated sewage and other beach pollution sources may be much higher than is currently recognized because people who get sick from swimming in polluted recreational waters are not always aware of the cause of their illness and do not report it to doctors or local health officials.”

A newcomer to the beach closure issue, Environment America, confirms NRDC’s “much higher” assessment. Environment America’s July 2019 report on Water Quality at Our Beaches states: “Each year in the U.S., swimmers suffer from an estimated 57 million cases of recreational waterborne illness.” Their figure comes from a study by public health scientists at the Universities of Illinois and Indiana, published in the January 2018 issue of Environmental Health (Table 3).

It turns out that Environment America is being conservative with their reporting of that study, which mentions another 30 million illness from waters contacted while fishing and boating. Digging in a bit further, the combined 87 million illnesses are based on a total of 4 billion annual surface water recreation events in America. That comes to a 2.2% incidence rate of sickness for each swimming, fishing or boating event on average. Focusing just on beach swimming, 1.9 billion annual recreation events with 57 million illnesses (mainly acute gastrointestinal ailments) yields a 3% rate of sickness. So an afternoon of swimming at the beach doesn’t guarantee you’ll be sick the next day. But if there were heavy rains prior to your outing, the odds of catching a bad stomach ache may increase.

Regardless of whose figures we settle on, millions of U.S. citizens get sick every year from contacting sewage that should not be in the water. EPA’s conflict of interest from its decades of assuming the role of POTW Construction Grants kingmaker may have something to do with their reticence to come public with these important findings. With any matter of industrial pollution allegedly causing much less civic harm, EPA would be thundering fire and brimstone.

Keeping People in the Dark: No ‘Right to Know’ on Government Pollution

The amazing part of all this, due to Congressional and EPA malfeasance, government sewage dumping and farm pollution are completely exempt from the popular and effective Right to Know reporting of the EPA’s annual Toxic Release Inventory. If anyone wants to get serious about these major pollution sources, this would seem to be a good place to start. States and counties don’t have to wait for federal EPA permission to broaden their local reporting requirements.

Mind you, not all food production is exempt from federal Right to Know reporting, which falls under Title 40 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Part 372, or 40 CFR 372 for anyone eager to dive into the environmental weeds. Private-sector food processors are fully liable to report their comparatively minor and well-controlled releases. Private-sector energy utilities, mining companies and waste handling facilities are also subject to annual Right to Know reporting. Only utilities owned by the government (i.e., sewage treatment plants) and heavily subsidized agribusiness are exempt. So there seems to be a pattern.

EPA goes to great lengths to establish double standards for increasingly trivial private-sector industrial emissions vs. more harmful public-sector activity. For instance, nitrates (one of the key government pollutants) are officially designated a “toxic chemical” under the Right to Know reporting—if discharged by industry. Another baddie, ammonia, is both a “toxic chemical” under those rules and also an “extremely hazardous substance” triggering additional Right to Know burdens—again, if you’re a manufacturing facility. Phosphates are strictly limited in industrial and some municipal wastewater discharges, but get a free pass for most farmers to intentionally place on the ground with no controls.

For subsidized farming and government sewage facilities, vast disposal rates of these synthetic chemicals suddenly become “natural” and exempt from Right to Know rules. Wet-weather government sewage releases may prompt some rudimentary paperwork recordkeeping, but also get special exemptions for unlimited pollution. These disparities keep the public unaware of real environmental and health threats.

The One Segment of Agribusiness it’s OK to Hate: ‘CAFOs’

EPA, USDA and Legacy media usually can’t even bring themselves to say “farm pollution.” If the words “farming” and “pollution” are ever used in an agency report or mainstream news article (rare in itself), you can be sure that officials and journalists will throw in warning labels of “industrial” feedlots or “factory” farming. Such reporting invariably injects their favorite acronym “CAFO”—short for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations—giving themselves an easy buzz-word to dehumanize the selected target of shame. (Regardless of how a person feels about confined animal farming, conditions that may involve unnecessary animal cruelty have little to do with discussions of effective environmental policy.)

One recent example of anti-CAFO incitement comes from a HuffPost article that was also carried by Microsoft News. The entire hit-piece uses harsh language to demonize a proposed “mega-dairy” in Wisconsin and features no less than five full-screen staged photos of their appointed CAFO-slaying heroes looking resolute and brave. Dairy business owners, their employees and prospective customers who want to benefit from the proposed “giant” farm are never pictured at all.

Even more disturbing, the story never once mentions the more neutral term “farm pollution.” The preferred moniker “CAFO” is recited 10 times. Common to most anti-CAFO propaganda, the story makes a great fuss over the relatively low concentrations of nitrates in animal manure (still a problem to be managed properly) but completely overlooks the greater amounts of high-concentration nitrates from chemical fertilizers. Chemical fertilizers are not mentioned once in the HuffPost/Microsoft push piece. That is totally nuts.

Back in the real world, EPA data show that nitrogen in fertilizer (11.9 million metric tons in 2007) exceeds nitrogen from manure (6.2 million metric tons) by almost 2 to 1. Phosphorous tonnages from fertilizer and manure are about the same according to EPA as of 2007, the most recent year both data sets are available. However, purity rates are much higher in chemical fertilizers, making off-site pollution more likely following precipitation. Since most of the nutrients in manure originated from chemical fertilizers taken up by crops, any focus solely on animal agriculture misses the point.

Science and logic being no impediment, anti-CAFO hysteria is all the rage with “green” groups looking for attention. The Environmental Law & Policy Center issued a screed on Lake Erie pollution with a headline blaming an “Explosion of Unregulated Factory Farms.” The Michigan state chapter of Sierra Club and many other groups have entire webpages dedicated to outlawing “Factory Farms” instead of merely limiting their impacts. The activist group reduces this to a simple demand to “End Factory Farming,” with 2.4 million pledged supporters.

Even the less combative environmental groups continue to put blind trust in government to come up with some magic “permit” or “regulation” to make everything better. The concept of limiting farm pollution—then leaving farmers alone—still avoids most pollution critics.

Considering their gross inconsistencies and general track record, the anti-CAFO bias among green groups and mainstream media can most likely be attributed to the fact that large, organized farms are highly profitable compared to many small, inefficient farms that struggle to stay in business. As with urban welfare, advocates of central planning often cannot stand any member of their protected classes showing independent success; this makes the others look bad while bringing public “uplift” policies into question. To avoid these embarrassments, uniform failure is generally preferred.

The EPA-USDA Solution to Farm Pollution: “Comprehensive” Paperwork

Before “comprehensive immigration reform” (often synonymous with open borders) came into vogue, EPA and USDA developed an environmental-farm rescue scheme in 1999 they called “comprehensive nutrient management plans.” The latter term equates to an elaborate paperwork distraction for endless faith in bureaucracy. And their management plans only apply to the largest animal operations—such as farms with at least 1,000 cattle, 2,500 pigs, 10,000 sheep, 55,000 turkeys, or 125,000 chickens. One animal less equals total federal exemption. EPA’s 2012 Permit Writers’ Manual for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (PDF page 30) states:

Today, there are slightly more than one million farms with livestock in the United States. EPA estimates that about 212,000 of those farms are likely to be AFOs [animal feeding operations]—operations where animals are kept and raised in confinement. … and that 8,000 of these CAFOs have NPDES [national] permit coverage.

That is, less than 1% of livestock farms in the U.S. had any type of national environmental permit as of 2012. States usually implement federal EPA wastewater policy and may occasionally set lower thresholds to cover more feedlots. Cropland that uses unlimited amounts of chemical fertilizers are exempt from most (if not all) state and federal pollution laws.

According to legend, unscrupulous industrial polluters did the kind of behavior depicted below at midnight when no one was looking. The story continues that corporate villains did so to “save money” because they were “greedy” profiteers. Today, open “dumping” of harmful chemicals and wastes occurs in broad daylight because it’s cheap and legal. The fact that industries did “good things” with most chemicals they processed never gave them an excuse for reckless abandonment of the residues. Socialized farming has always been granted this privilege.

Even for the largest “mega-farms” on green activists’ radar, the EPA-USDA plans are generic reports with some token provision for better management, like not allowing cattle to congregate in a stream… at least not for too long. Another favorite is to have farmers stipulate in writing that they won’t use any more manure on their crops than is “agronomically necessary.” That sounds nice, but is impossible to enforce without constant police-state surveillance and/or self-incrimination—a popular strategy with regulators that farmers should watch out for.

Even if nutrient application limits could be enforced, it wouldn’t safeguard the environment since crops cannot possibly take up all the toxic ammonia, nitrates, phosphates and other chemicals in the soil. These toothless plans allow politicians to say “we got involved, we spent money.” But not much, if anything, gets achieved according to widespread failures witnessed from Florida to Chesapeake Bay to Lake Erie and other locations where USDA has implemented thousands of these “comprehensive plans.” In the heavily distressed Chesapeake watershed alone, USDA boasts of having “invested more than $1 billion in technical and financial assistance” in agricultural pollution management efforts since 2009.

By all indications, USDA wants to be seen as part of the solution, while protecting agribusiness from any meaningful limitations on harmful practices, thereby keeping its swollen $150 billion budget and 90,000+ government jobs off-limits to scrutiny. This is nothing new. Maintaining the pristine image of “family farmers” has been a crucial part of their agenda for over a century.

People unfamiliar with rural politics may not be aware of the tremendous clout of corporate agribusiness. For the sake of this essay, I’ll just note that the general term “Farm Lobby” covers a sprawling collection of influential subgroups networking the corridors of Congress and most State capitols. These include Big Fertilizer, Big Corn, Big Ethanol, Big Soy, Big Wheat, Big Rice, Big Dairy, Big Pork, Big Beef and countless others—with more official sounding names that I won’t bother you with—who all work to bend political power in their favor. All of these organized special interests stand to lose influence, tax breaks and/or subsidies if talk of “farm pollution” tarnishes their crafted portrait of agrarian wholesomeness. Suffice to say, their collective strength has kept Congress and EPA petrified for generations.

Here is EPA’s ideal method of “regulating” farm pollution, from their 2012 Permit Writers’ Manual for CAFOs. The photo and caption are from EPA:

EPA-USDA “comprehensive nutrient management plans” are so narrow (and lacking transparency) that routine practices like chemical fertilizer application are completely exempt. Establishing objective thresholds—even voluntary ones—for harmful pollution levels cascading off farmland is not considered. Pollution limits aren’t even mentioned. In other words, EPA and USDA are not serious about reducing farm pollution.

If the Farm Lobby were wise, they would be begging for objective limits on off-site pollution. This would free them up to meet those limits however deemed appropriate… then get back to farming. Industries failed to learn this lesson in the 1960s and are still paying a huge price for it. The suspicion that politicians might set limits that are impossible to meet faces at least two big obstacles: 1) politicians hate being held accountable (as would the outcry from even one farmer being put out of business by “green tyranny”), and 2) the Farm Lobby and USDA would strenuously fight against any economically adverse limits from being enacted. Politicians prefer the vagueness of “management plans” to minimize transparency while maximizing photo opportunities with smiling farm-grant recipients.

And the federal refusal to get serious on government-oriented pollution is nothing new. Prior to the 2004 election, when asked about the environmental loopholes for farming, President George W. Bush told Pollution Engineering magazine:

“To help States clean up non-point source pollution, I signed a record $40 billion in conservation funding into law as part of the 2002 Farm Bill.”

In any other situation, EPA and the Green Lobby decry this behavior as “paying polluters to pollute,” an accurate assessment in the case of federal spending on farm pollution.

As alluded by Mr. Bush, regulators and lawmakers often make excuses for farm pollution, citing technical jargon about the alleged difficulties in reducing “non-point” pollution (that is, pollution without a discharge pipe). But landfills, Superfund sites and ground soaked from leaking fuel storage tanks are also classic non-point sources. That flimsy excuse never stopped Congress and EPA from targeting those activities for infinitely more expensive cleanups.

Is Lake Erie Dying Again? How was it ‘Saved’ in the First Place?

With so little national attention being paid on legitimate environmental topics, America seems to have lost ground in one of the premier battlefronts of the original green movement: Lake Erie, which was widely pronounced “dead” during the late 1960s. Much less frequently mentioned are the causes of the shallow lake’s early obituary, as well as its rapid comeback.

The top culprit for the rotting algae that sucked oxygen out of the lake, making fish scarce and closing local beaches, was the use of phosphate laundry detergents. Basic sewage treatment facilities of the era did almost nothing to remove the dissolved pollutant, which passed through to the receiving water body. Untreated industrial wastes, municipal sewage discharges and the increase of chemical agriculture certainly played their parts, but the use of phosphate laundry detergents exploded during the 1950s and 60s and triggered the biggest overall ecological shock that devastated the smallest of the Great Lakes.

The 1999 U.S. Geological Survey report “Review of Phosphorus Control Measures in the United States” (chart extracted below) verifies the steep increase in nationwide consumption of phosphorous in detergents—peaking at 220,000 metric tons in 1967. The agency notes:

In 1967, the U.S. Congress established the Joint Industry-Government Task Force on Eutrophication with the goal of accelerating research into the development of suitable substitutes for phosphates in detergent.

USGS data shows the usage of phosphate detergents plummeting over 50% nationwide within 5 years, thanks to the prevalence of statewide bans starting in the early 1970s. Since the initial bans were heavily centered around the Great Lakes, we can assume phosphate detergent usage dropped off more precipitously in that region.

For historical conditions in Lake Erie, we have the following graph that I obtained about 20 years ago from the Center for Great Lakes Environmental Education. The top point on the graph below from “Burns 1976” apparently did not anticipate the steep decline in phosphate detergent usage after 1967.

Nevertheless, the regional ban on phosphate detergents—and its enormous benefits to Lake Erie water quality—have almost entirely been forgotten. When Time magazine did a retrospective in December 1979 titled “Comeback for the Great Lakes,” phosphate detergents received a single sentence out of a three-page feature:

One of the largest sources of the harmful phosphates was common laundry detergent, but the levels have now been lowered by law in every state and province bordering the [great] lakes except Ohio.

Wikipedia’s lengthy entry on Lake Erie acknowledges its “dead” status in the 1960s and 70s, but splits the blame between “industry” (with no scientific evidence) and sewage dumping (with some data). Wikipedia doesn’t mention detergents at all. Again, no industrial scapegoat equals no interest.

While the condition of Lake Erie presumably has not regressed to the point of the 1960s—thanks largely to expensive improvements in industrial wastewater treatment and sewage treatment, and the phosphate detergent ban—signs of fatigue are increasingly evident. The pictures below ran in the Spring 2015 edition of the quarterly magazine of the State University of New York (SUNY) at Buffalo, under the title of “Green Menace.”

The western basin of Lake Erie looked just as sick in 2017, based on satellite photos published earlier this year by Mother Jones, who also reproduced NOAA’s algae bloom severity chart for 2002 to 2018. That chart of western Lake Erie shows algae blooms getting significantly worse over the last two decades, although individual years vary to some degree.

The SUNY Buffalo article acknowledged the past progress in Lake Erie, noting that after the 1960s catastrophe in the region “the U.S. spent $8 billion over the next two decades to improve wastewater treatment, and state and local laws reduced phosphates in laundry detergents; these steps significantly reduced levels of the minerals that fed toxic algae growth in the lake.”

As for current algae blooms and frequent beach closures, the SUNY Buffalo article offers a mostly passive and apologetic assessment towards farming:

This time around, the brunt of the blame for outsized algae blooms is largely directed at farmers, who, in a chase for higher yields, have been accused of overloading their fields with fertilizers, such as manure, that naturally contain phosphorous and nitrogen. … To be fair, it’s not all the farmers’ fault.

Actually, this time it is overwhelmingly the farmers’ fault. To get some idea of the intensive chemical activity on farms around Lake Erie, we can look at a recent report from the state of Ohio’s environmental agency. The Ohio EPA’s April 2018 study “Nutrient Mass Balance Study for Ohio’s Major Riversprovides figures on “non-point pollution” (code word here for farm pollution) for the major rivers in Ohio that feed Lake Erie. The Ohio study did not include inputs to Lake Erie from the massive Detroit River or any rivers in Canada.

Major Ohio Rivers Feeding Lake Erie

River Loading Percentage from “non-point” sources (1) Nutrient Loading Mass from Rivers (metric tons/year) (2)
Phosphorus Nitrogen Phosphorus Nitrogen
Maumee 88% 89% 2,212 41,146
Portage 87% 89% 184 3,945
Sandusky 93% 94% 513 8,612
Cuyahoga (3) 45% 11% 309 5,369
Vermillion 94% 94% 105 1,221
Other Frontal Tributaries 76% 78% 161 3,020
Ohio Totals 3,484 63,313
  1. “Non-point” pollution is primarily from agriculture. Balance of nutrient pollution comes from industrial/municipal “point” sources and septic tanks.
  2. Nutrient loading rates are 2013 – 2017 averages. Totals for all sources (point and non-point).
  3. Cuyahoga River (near Cleveland) gets high nutrient percentage inputs from its urban population and industrial facilities, yet still contributes less than 10% of total Ohio nutrient loadings by mass.

“Point” sources are what government officials call anything discharged from a pipe directly to a water body, such the effluents from sewage treatment plants and industrial facilities. If it were legal, industries could just discharge untreated wastewaters right on the land. Voila, problem solved. But private businesses are not allowed this exemption.

Reacting to the Ohio EPA’s 2018 study, the Toledo Blade published a superficially scathing editorial “Lake Erie shame.” The editorial criticizes state regulators for making “no progress at all” in the last 5 years and even scolds “the Ohio Farm Bureau, one of the state’s most powerful lobbies” for “absurd and insulting” foot dragging.

Then their higher calling arose with a plea for more “help from Columbus [Ohio’s capital] in the form of incentives for pollution-reducing practices, along with grants and loans” for agribusiness. The Blade editorial ends with:

The farmers are not our enemy. They feed us. But they need help—greater help than denial, rationalization, and cover-up.

This type of appeasement is very common in farm country and from the many USDA experts that receive warm coverage from Legacy media. Farm Lobby spokesmen will say anything to distract attention from holding privileged landowners accountable. The demonstrated harm of unlimited discharges from chemical fertilizers so completely challenges the perpetual victim narrative among farmers that some people can’t come to grips with it.

I’m not suggesting that anyone tries to ban or restrict the use or application of fertilizers. Those would be terrible ideas that could greatly harm food production. The focus should be on actual pollution limits, as should have been apparent over 50 years ago. It’s only the post-1970 obsession with legalistic double standards and reflexive demonization of evil “polluters” (always said to be from industry) that got some people distracted from this reality.

The questions of how much of the nitrogen and phosphates get taken up by crops at a given farm (which varies considerably), how much accumulate on the land and how much migrate to nearby waters have been studied extensively by EPA, USDA and other federal agencies. We don’t need more studies and computer modeling. We probably need more direct monitoring (i.e., groundwater wells downstream of agribusiness and stormwater sampling points at farm ditches) which would confirm whether bureaucratic projections are accurate or not. Congress could also shift public reporting duties to more independent agencies like USGS or NOAA, since EPA has shown an inability to be objective.

Beyond that, low-tech abatement measures for farm pollution like holding ponds, buffer vegetation strips, nutrient-absorbing trees, cover crops during the off-season, or possibly more effective fertilizer application seem most practical here. All of those have been tried and tested by the USDA in voluntary field studies that lack public accountability.

And it’s not like agribusiness—America’s original landed nobility—can’t spare a few acres of soil. The feudal barons of subsidized farming collectively own about 400 million acres of cropland in the U.S. (roughly four times the size of California) and another 650 million acres of sparse pasture and rangeland. These minimally productive lands (compared to any other human venture) are bestowed with free Farm-to-Market roads and rural electrification—but usually skate by on the thinnest of tax payments. American farmers have enough idle land (see USDA land use graphics from Bloomberg) to set small segments aside to prevent their chemical activity from traveling off-site and spoiling the public domain. The only missing ingredients at this point are accountability and the political will to stop pandering.

A Big Mess in Florida… and more Excuses

The photo below from a current EPA website is not dated, but similar conditions were reported in 2019 at that river and throughout the state of Florida.

Lest anyone think government pollution is merely a phenomenon in the Northeast or possibly the Midwest, I’ll look at one more state that falls into neither category. A recent UPI story titled “Record seaweed blooms cut tourism, hurt beaches in Florida, Caribbean” provides some general background along with lots of subterfuge:

The sargassum seaweed has piled up several feet deep in South Florida and other regions, becoming a plague for tourists and wildlife alike. It also rots quickly on land and creates a stink. … Miami-Dade County in Florida alone has estimated hauling all the seaweed would cost $45 million per year.

And who’s to blame? As usual, it is mostly the rain’s fault. The article reports on similar problems south of the border and quotes a state beach expert:

“It’s always been known that the Amazon River in Brazil supplies nutrients that lead to algae blooms,” [state university professor, Stephen] Leatherman said. “In recent years, studies have shown that deforestation and agriculture in the Amazon, along with heavy rains, have increased the nutrients.”

As for U.S. agribusiness (fairly strong in Florida), not a single word in the story mentioned the possibility of this pollution originating from American farms. But it does mention the theory that smoke from fires in Africa “might” be playing a role… ruining beaches in Florida.

How much farming occurs in Florida, that the UPI reporter failed to mention? EPA reports from 2011 show that Florida agribusiness purchased 146,500 metric tons of nitrogen fertilizer and 43,200 metric tons of phosphate fertilizer, with another 132,800 metric tons of those nutrients coming from animal manure as of 2007, their latest figures. When it rains—as it often does in the gator state—those minerals soak through the soil and cascade into nearby ditches to feed blankets of seaweed at the shorelines and spectacular algae blooms along interior waters. In recent years, Florida has also experienced scores of massive fish kills, which I’ll address in the next section.

To put the annual nitrogen fertilizer usage rate for Florida into context, their 146,500 tons is close to the combined total of 178,100 tons for neighboring states Georgia and Alabama. But it’s nowhere near the leading nitrogen fertilizer appetites of corn gluttons Iowa (1.2 million tons) and Illinois (964,000 tons), much of which ends up polluting the Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico—with EPA’s studied approval.

In Search of a Few Good Greens: The U.S. could use a Registry of Fish Kills

The problem with farm pollution and to a lesser extent urban sewage, is that whenever it rains, the toxic swill of fertilizer runoff joins with residuals from animal and human waste and creates damage off-site. Rivers, lakes and ocean shorelines end up with higher sediment and nutrient loadings. That pollution feeds algae blooms that decompose and suck the oxygen out of the water, killing sometimes thousands or millions of fish.

Apparently, fish don’t like swimming in sewage any more than people do. More to the point, the frequency and extent of fish kills are good indicators of the ultimate success or failure of any government environmental program—as opposed to bureaucratic boasting about permits and penalties.

Despite decades of rather evident neglect from state and local officials—who gladly accept Farm Lobby contributions then look the other way when pollution flows into interstate waters—EPA shows no interest in compiling anything close to a nationwide registry of fish kills.

At most, federal agencies may insert brief local or state anecdotes within other annual reports when farm lagoon ruptures become too obvious to ignore. For instance, the EPA’s 2004 Report to Congress on CSOs and SSOs has one small table on “Fish Kills Reported in North Carolina: 1997-2002” (page 5-18). In that table we learn that during those six years, the nation’s second leading hog state of North Carolina experienced 349 separate fish kill events with over 4.3 million fish killed. And this is just one state. Yet there is no mention at all of agriculture influencing fish kills in that EPA report.

EPA’s premier report on water pollution—the originally biennial but now sporadic National Water Quality Inventory (NWQI) Report to Congress—typically has no data on fish kills, although it does contain exhaustive figures on overall miles of rivers and acres of lakes “impaired” by agriculture and other sources. (“Impairment” is a flexible term for pollution that EPA brandishes to advertise alleged progress while frequently warning “we need to do more.”) In the eight NWQI reports issued since the 1992 reporting cycle (i.e., all of the reports available online) most inventories contain only vague references such as “Fish kills and foul odors may result if dissolved oxygen is depleted” to quote the 1996 edition, which ran over 200 pages.

EPA’s 1994 NWQI report was the most detailed of all, providing a half-page section on fish kills including the following highlights:

Fish kill reporting is a voluntary process; States, Tribes, and other jurisdictions are not required to report on how many fish kills occur, or what might have caused them. … fish kills are an important consideration in water quality assessments. In 1994, 32 States, Tribes, and other jurisdictions reported a total of 1,454 fish kill incidents. These States attributed 737 of the fish kills to pollution, 257 to unknown causes, 263 to natural conditions (such as low flow and high temperatures), and 229 kills to ambiguous causes.

Even the above blurb provides nowhere near the intensity of EPA’s wrath on any specific industry that violates some permit condition that may lead to no environmental harm. A taste of EPA’s industrial antipathy can be seen in their annual enforcement results which rarely claim actual ecological damage—if you look past their headlines on ambiguous “pollution” triggering large fines.

EPA’s most recent National Water Quality Inventory report issued in 2017 makes no mention of fish kills—even though presumably hundreds of fish mortality events occurred based on available state data and past U.S. activity. This is the best EPA can provide, with an $8.3 billion budget and 15,400 staffers as of FY 2017.

Considering the evidence of EPA literature and public statements, it would be generous to say that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency does not take fish kills to be a priority. A more candid assessment would be that EPA leadership are embarrassed of America’s routine fish kills and would rather talk about topics like “climate change” or vague “industrial contamination” that offer easy opportunities to boost their profile.

Back during the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which began on April 20, 2010, attitudes were different (see Smithsonian’s fairly balanced account for key details). At that time a few dead fish on the beach (often nowhere near any oil) were a national sensation. EPA made great commotion over this event as well—although not solely for reasons of potential fish kills that never materialized in significant numbers. Fish that died from unknown causes made for weeks of theatrics at FoxNews, CNN and MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show, here from May 2010:

At that time, the rest of Legacy media were just as committed in their feigned concern for unsightly oil slicks primarily far out at sea and a few dead animals along the shore. When Gulf waters and beaches cleaned up within a few months, national attention on fish kills dissipated as well.

As noted above, the state of Florida has experienced scores of massive fish kills, some of which can be viewed here. Unfortunately, none of those photos say what caused mortality. One major fish kill in Florida that local activists attribute to both agriculture and sewage is shown here. While there is certainly a time for viewing photos of dead fish, I’m fully aware of the shock value that environmental groups exploit for purpose of emotional fundraising campaigns. Since that is not my intention with this article, I’ve decided to only provide the two links within this paragraph. Many more pictures of fish killed by farm pollution pop up briefly in local news, with the standard trite excuses, then become quickly forgotten.

One of the more common diversions offered by state officials is the claim that any given fish kill may possibly be attributed to “natural” causes. Aquatic algae and reduced oxygen conditions are indeed “natural” to some extent, as state tourism officials often suggest. But the millions of tons of synthetic chemicals that feed vast algae blooms along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts are about as natural as leaded gasoline. Even the worst pro-industry shills in the 1960s had the decency to refrain from playing the “natural” card—which is technically true (but also misleading) for oil, lead, mercury and other industrial pollutants, as well as tobacco and asbestos.

Officials in Ohio are at least making superficial efforts to curb the most reckless practices at feedlots in their state. In Ohio, the act of “putting manure on fields before heavy rains” is now illegal according to the article below, although it’s not clear how such an arbitrary pre-crime can be enforced. A 2017 article from the Associated Press leads off with:

The operators of three agriculture businesses have been told to pay more than $30,000 for three large fish kills that Ohio’s natural resources department says were caused by livestock manure spread on fields.

Statewide figures on fish kills for Florida, Ohio and most other states seem unavailable.

The state of Maryland—ground zero for farm pollution causing a large “dead zone” in the Chesapeake Bay each summer—produces an annual report on fish kills which downplays agriculture. Their latest report credits “natural causes… including oxygen depletion”, “fishing discards” and unknown sources for the majority of their 62 fish kill events observed in 2016. One telling statement from the Maryland report:

As schools of menhaden [native feedstocks for larger game fish] became smaller and less plentiful in the Chesapeake Bay, the number and magnitude of menhaden kills has dropped.

“America’s Dairyland” of Wisconsin collects rudimentary statewide data on fish kills, but is mainly focused on trying to find suitable targets to blame for their 502 reported events of fish “die-offs… distributed over 359 different lakes” between 2004 and 2014, according to state and federally funded research published in Nature magazine last summer. Staff at USA Today promoted this effort in an article headlined “Global warming could mean fewer fish for sport fishing, more die-offs across US.” Despite Wisconsin being the nation’s second leading dairy manure producer (behind California)—neither USA Today nor Nature magazine made a single mention of manure, fertilizer or agriculture in those articles.

For curiosity, I looked at Wikipedia. Their Fish Kill page is very sparse, with no U.S. fish kill events reported since 2011. From web searches of USGS, NOAA and U.S. Fish & Wildlife, it does not appear that any federal agency is tracking nationwide fish kills in any organized fashion. The few states that do regularly report on fish kills (such as Maryland and North Carolina) show little interest for incriminating powerful agribusiness groups or harming their own tourism revenues. The farm state of Iowa is one exception to this trend, attributing agriculture to a plurality of its 938 total recorded fish kill events involving an estimated 12 million fish since 1981.

With U.S. sport fishing being an allegedly $115 billion industry supporting about 830,000 jobs (according to Bassmaster, whose economic multipliers may be a bit exaggerated) and coastal tourism and genuine environmental concerns affecting tens of millions of Americans, the scantly reported problem of widespread fish kills seems to present an unmet need for accurate information.

Autocratic federal agencies like EPA that write, enforce and judge their own rules have demonstrated an inability to handle this task—which should surprise no one including Congress that set up this no-checks/no-balances system. Leaving an agency like EPA to report on its own progress—on fish kills or anything else—is a guaranteed recipe for abuse.

Any aspiring university research department or perhaps a few organized private citizens could provide a vital service here. I know at least one experienced environmental professional that may be willing to assist in such an endeavor.

Those who follow environmental topics in the news may notice the profound absence of interest among Legacy media on the topics of beach closures, government sewage dumping and all the damage caused by farm pollution. On the surface, this may appear surprising, since major media ostensibly like to hype environmental issues. But that’s only when a convenient industrial villain can be targeted (i.e., climate change, “fracking,” anything with a smokestack). In those cases, no evidence of actual harm is needed. Gratuitous repetition of vague terms like “toxic” or “contamination” coupled with “industrial” passes for reporting nowadays.

From my involvement in the eco-business and my general interest in media history, I find the pattern here to be consistent with everything else I’ve seen. Major media again fail to report on anything critical of their federal benefactors, preferring instead to pummel only profitable businesses.

Independent voices that challenge the prevailing beliefs are either shunned or silenced—on all topics, not just green matters. Coveted FCC broadcasting licenses, press credentials, exclusive interviews and rich corporate advertising don’t go to independent reporters who buck the system. The common complaint of a “liberal” media is secondary (at best) to those core issues.

The pattern I notice among Old Guard media, academics and other recipients of government favor is the frequent use of crude and inflammatory language towards groups they despise (“industrial polluters”, “racists”, “terrorists” etc.) while using only soft platitudes and layered honorifics (“family farmer”, “African American”, “service member”, “senior citizen” etc.) towards groups they’ve been told to revere. That is to say, the vast majority of our ruling elites have no legitimate standards, just complex double standards.

When Rage and Favoritism Lead to Blindness. Example: Chesapeake Bay

Most of the major Green Lobby organizations in America have conditioned their followers to hate “industrial polluters” as a form of pure evil that exists for the sole purpose of hurting other people. As tax-favored “non-profits,” they rely on charitable donations—not producing anything of real value or creative problem solving. Years of practice have shown that scapegoating corporate villains triggers a significant number of people to make emotional decisions on what causes to support. As of 2014, the top 10 organizations in the Green Movement “collectively have 15 million members, 2,000-plus staffers and annual budgets of more than $525 million,” according to environmental journalists at Inside Climate News. Most of these groups relentlessly bash “corporate polluters” out of reflex.

Decades of scapegoating doesn’t just hurt private industry. It masks widespread public dysfunction. This phenomenon is true of the entire genre of government pollution, but I’ll focus here on the example of Chesapeake Bay. As the nation’s largest estuary, its watershed covers 64,000 square miles in parts of six states and is home to 18 million people, nearly 500 wastewater treatment facilities and over 83,000 farm operations. EPA’s research has long recognized nutrient overloads from agriculture and sewage discharges to be the dominant threats to these once-bountiful waters.

After about 35 years of federal and multi-state activity on their Chesapeake Bay Program— including sewage treatment plant upgrades, thousands of farm “management plans,” tighter controls on industry—political leaders have barely put a dent in Chesapeake’s high nutrient concentrations or its severely low levels of dissolved oxygen during the summer (NPR graphic: scroll down for Bay aerial plots of 1988 vs. 2015). As a result of farm pollution and sewage discharges, stocks of everything from the area’s famous blue crabs to striped bass are still are suffering—an embarrassment that officials frequently minimize. Buried on the government’s Chesapeake Bay Program website, they admit that blue crab harvests have dropped from around 100 million pounds per year in the early 1990s to only 35 million pounds in 2014.

The non-profit watchdog group Chesapeake Bay Foundation changed its overall grade for 13 indicators in the Bay from a C- in 2016 to a D+ in 2018, vaguely associated with an increased rainfall in some areas within the watershed. The Baltimore Sun reported this downgrade with a headline blaming “a massive assault from record rainfall.” As usual, the real culprits of this national disgrace got only gentle encouragement.

The above headline from January 2019 is common in Legacy media, where stenographers and scribes are groomed how to properly communicate by their political superiors. In reality, precipitation from the sky—even in the most urbanized areas in the U.S.—is very clean. Rain that contacts drips of oil, gasoline, metallic break dust and garbage strewn on city streets leaves a greater impact. Stormwater that lands on mechanically plowed agricultural fields soaked with ammonia, nitrates, phosphates and rotting animal wastes causes even more harm.

Actually, the next section will explain why conditions in the Chesapeake Bay are almost certainly worse than EPA is admitting.

Dubious Standards and Open Questions: The “Dead Zones” (plural) in the Gulf, etc.

While animal manure from “factory feedlots” receive what little attention environmentalists offer towards agribusiness, the polluted fertilizer runoff from U.S. cropland is probably more harmful, based on nutrient tonnages applied and known discharges to public waters. But EPA and USDA don’t bother to quantify damage for such things. If you hunt for it, other data are available to provide some insights to the magnitude of farm pollution.

The two federal agencies taking the lead, so to speak, on pollution in the Gulf of Mexico are the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. According to the USGS’s 2000 report on delivery of nitrogen to the Gulf of Mexico (Supplementary Info, Table 4) agricultural fertilizers and livestock waste deliver 755,000 tons per year of nitrogen at the Mississippi River’s outlet to the Gulf. That amount dwarfs all other natural and man-made sources, which combined for 425,000 tons per year of the pollutant. Fertilizers delivered more than three times as much nitrogen to the Gulf as livestock waste, according to USGS. With more and more fertilizers building up on U.S. cropland every year, there’s no reason to think the amount of chemical runoff is declining.

As a result, the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico any given summer now grows to roughly the size of New Jersey or Massachusetts, depending on rainfall and other factors during the year. EPA’s website for the Gulf of Mexico Hypoxia Task Force provides an aerial graphic of the current dead zone size (not reproduced here) and the following historical bar chart:

If you check the EPA chart (above) and graphic (prior link), you’ll notice that both draw attention to the 2 mg/L dissolved oxygen standard. Here’s where things start to get more curious regarding the many acknowledged “dead zones.” From time to time, agencies show some independence to establish their credentials or perhaps better serve the public. One such example on the topic of aquatic dead zones comes again from the U.S. Geological Survey.

The USGS website for Dissolved Oxygen and Water shows the much broader aerial graphic of the Gulf of Mexico dead zones (plural) below and without the political qualifiers. The caption is from USGS.

People may notice that USGS does not arbitrarily draw attention to the dubious “standard” of 2 mg/L dissolved oxygen. There’s a good reason for that: it’s completely ridiculous. Also noteworthy, “bottom waters” are still shaded green (higher dissolved oxygen) were cities and farm pollution don’t make an impact. That same USGS website states:

The oxygen content of surface waters of normal salinity in the summer is typically more than 8 milligrams per liter (8 mg/L); when oxygen concentrations are less than 2 mg/L, the water is defined as hypoxic (CENR, 2000). The hypoxia kills many organisms that cannot escape, and thus the hypoxic zone is informally known as the “dead zone.”

Here’s where the dead zone in Chesapeake Bay comes back into the picture. Game fish like striped bass need at least 5 mg/L of oxygen to survive, so the “safe” areas reported by the government’s Chesapeake Bay Program (and elsewhere) are actually polluted. Over at NOAA (which is not part of the Chesapeake Bay Program) they flatly state: “Striped bass require at least 5 mg/L of dissolved oxygen.” Otherwise, they swim to waters near the surface seeking higher DO levels, but those waters are warmer and cause additional stress to the fish.

The previously cited NPR article with Chesapeake Bay images of dissolved oxygen for 1988 vs. 2015 has a legend with natural blue regions (most of the Bay) defined as “More than 3 mg/L: Acceptable.” This probably comes from some protocol from an agency that helps manage the Bay cleanup, but even that’s not clear. NPR’s institutional biases may have influenced their headline that “… Proposed EPA Cuts Threaten Success” and the rest of their scripted reporting. The skewed assessments of “Chesapeake Bay… Success” and mostly “acceptable” water conditions—fed by whatever activists and lobbies (many are featured positively) handed NPR this rosy bill of goods—are misleading. So are related EPA standards.

The change from a 5 mg/L minimum requirement to an “acceptable” 3 mg/L oxygen content in water might not seem like a big deal, but that’s a 40 percent drop from an already low baseline standard. A similar drop in normal oxygen levels in air will give most people “altitude sickness” of headaches and fatigue within a few hours. Bigger decreases in oxygen air concentration for sustained periods can cause brain damage or death to humans. One would expect fish to respond in a somewhat similar fashion to being exposed to low-oxygen water.

For agencies to claim that 3 mg/L oxygen content in water is “acceptable” (no further comment) for fish is disingenuous. Drawing attention only to extremely distressed (basically “dead”) areas with less than 2 mg/L of dissolved oxygen is even worse. But to set realistic environmental standards protective of aquatic life would dramatically expose their own failure in correcting conditions around the nation. Reporting on what you “manage” has that conflicting nature.

Despite these weak standards on water quality, EPA staffers let slip: “Over 166 dead zones have been documented nationwide, affecting waterbodies like the Chesapeake Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.” At least on that web page, the 164 other “dead zones” received no further comment. A separate EPA website on hypoxia provides three small photos and a simple statewide summary count of “hypoxic ecosystems” totaling over 400 in various coastal and Great Lakes states (e.g., 108 dead ecosystems in Florida, 39 in Texas, 30 in Maryland, 27 in New York, 19 in California, etc.). Lacking an industrial villain, this man-made fiasco prompts little enthusiasm. EPA didn’t bother to even attach a location name or human face to any of these over 400 ecological wastelands. Just a number and useless technical verbiage.

By any objective measure, environmental damage in Chesapeake Bay, the Gulf of Mexico, Green Bay Wisconsin and elsewhere are probably worse than state and federal agencies are letting on. The settled-upon standard from EPA for the Gulf of Mexico and other coastal waters of 2 mg/L dissolved oxygen only designates the threshold for total environmental collapse.

This raises the question that’s apparently never asked in public: What about near-death oxygen levels (say, 3 or 4 mg/L) which are still signs of pollution? As things stand, federal bureaucrats promote the idea: if polluted waters don’t rapidly kill most aquatic life, then the waters are totally safe.

As noted above, a few mavericks at these agencies occasionally let some light eek out from the cracks. Those are rare exceptions that get lost in the colorful graphics on Gulf of Mexico dissolved oxygen mapping and loud theatrics about climate fluctuations.

Some of the questions that federal agencies should be more forthcoming on:

  • What amount of nitrogen and phosphorous would be expected to reach the Chesapeake Bay and the Gulf of Mexico in natural conditions (pre-European arrival)?
  • How big would the estimated dead zones in the Chesapeake Bay and Gulf of Mexico be in (say) 1600, 1700, 1800, 1900, and 1950?
  • What are the natural levels of oxygen in these waters?
  • What are the oxygen levels needed for game fish (striped bass, tuna, mackerel, grouper, red snapper, etc.) populations to be sustainable or to increase populations?
  • How will various low-oxygen levels (say, 3 or 4 mg/L) effect game fish? Will 10% or 50% of juveniles or adults die within a few days, etc.?

Among the hundreds of government studies done on all things environmental, I would hope someone has data or estimates on these fairly basic questions.

The Other Side of EPA Policy: Arbitrary Harassment of Private Industry

This final section is important for a couple reasons. With any attention on “unregulated” (more accurately “unlimited”) pollution sources, conservatives and libertarians are guaranteed to cry FOUL! No more rules! Environmentalist whacko! … and usual stuff like that. Without any counterweight from liberals (infatuated only with industrial pollution) to offset those predictable right-wing pressures, any prospect for reasonable dialogue quickly vanishes.

Add in the Farm Lobby’s staunch opposition to any form of environmental responsibility and EPA’s conflict of interest on limiting government sewage discharges, then you start to see why the LONG, LONG standing issues of farm pollution and sewage dumping have gotten almost zero traction in the past. Hence, the fix we’re still in almost 50 years after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was established.

The legitimate concerns against federal overreach must also be put into proper context. For anyone not already aware of the hyper-legalism that smothers American business, I’ll offer a few highlights. Once again, colleges and Legacy media have largely failed to educate the public on these matters.

U.S. manufacturers and energy producers face a daily barrage of bureaucratic excess, with countless thousands of “you must” and “you shall” mandates, self-incriminating “compliance” reports and an assumption of guilt baked in to every individual permit needed before any facility can operate. (Biased officials who have never worked in the private sector often sugar coat these abuses as “regulations,” as if they’re just handing out free bran muffins to keep industrial operations flowing smoothly.)

To give an example of EPA “regulations” enabled by one part of one law, in the Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT) Standards (also called NESHAPs) developed from the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, the words “must” and “shall” occur over 34,000 times. These include mandates how a company “must submit … must notify … must install” and excruciating details on what incriminating (often useless) records you “shall keep … shall provide.” It’s up to any given industry to figure out which few hundreds or thousands of those confusing rules apply to their operations. Failure to obey any one of those 34,000 mandates, as applicable, makes a business owner guilty of violating the entire “Clean Air Act” in the judgment of EPA enforcers and their media megaphones.

A prior edition of that same law (still in effect) offers another good example. The Clean Air Act of 1970 hatched something called New Source Review (NSR), a giveaway to high-polluting “existing” facilities like TVA’s coal-fired power plants, as long as they didn’t engage in the murky definition of a process “modification.” In other words, the grandfathering of mega-polluters while punishing new facilities with much stricter standards. As with the MACT rules, we see hyper-legalism spawned by political favoritism showing its ugly face in a big way. As of 2008, a brochure for training services at a New Source Review Workshop (run by a former EPA chief of their NSR Section) boasted:

“This course… focuses on how the most important of the over 13,300 pages of policy documents and related materials issued since 1974 interpret and affect the NSR rules.”

These two examples just relate to portions of one law regarding air pollution. That doesn’t count complex rules for other air permitting requirements, hazardous waste management, remediation, wastewater and stormwater discharges, “due diligence” guidelines for commercial property transfers, the pliable genres of toxicology and air dispersion modeling, and endless written “plans” to address risks, spills, pollution prevention, contingencies, etc.

No one will probably ever know how many thousands of manufacturing facilities have been chased out of the country—to less bureaucratic Mexico or China—partly because of these burdens. That unnecessary complexity is why remaining industries hire “environmental consultants” like me and any of my 125,000 colleagues in this business. Here are the 23 largest environmental consulting firms as of 2014—nearly all of which rake in well over $100 million per year according to Engineering News-Record (subscription required for annual revenue details). Most of those firms are eagerly cashing in on “greenhouse gas” permitting and reporting. Most (if not all) of them—acting as deputy EPA enforcers of mandatory “deviation” reporting—would rather not rock the boat on government pollution.

Considering the evidence, I conclude that: EPA and environmental experts have no idea what “pollution” is. But they are sure, whatever private-sector companies are doing is always wrong and must be changed, regardless of inconvenience and with only cursory thought to cost. Meanwhile, any amount of demonstrated government pollution is not really “pollution,” but an opportunity for more public spending and photo ops with smiling children.

All of this is a far cry from setting and enforcing a few objective LIMITS or thresholds on pollution, then giving people the flexibility to achieve those standards as deemed most practical. In other words, this is not a false option of Big Government or No Government.

I can speak from over 25 years of experience that the entire legal framework of eco-purity in America is opposed to clear and sensible pollution limits for the government to monitor and enforce. Instead, we have thousands of “must” and “shall” mandates, complicated self-monitoring and self-reporting. Add to that the unintelligible classifications of big/small, major/minor, new/existing/modified, actual/potential emissions and countless other absurdities for pestering every sector of private industrial activity.

The cost-benefit analysis on all that eco-busywork is dubious at best. Despite widespread progress on most other forms of industrial pollution since the 1960s and 70s, the script has never gone back for overdue editing.

Under the guise of “environmental concern,” we routinely hear calls for outlawing the internal combustion engine, dogmatic opposition to nuclear and hydroelectric power, paranoid protesting of a simple pipe in the ground (the Keystone oil conduit that greens hated, to the benefit of a billionaire railroad oligarch), lawsuits to strangle any new refinery or coal power plant and efforts to throttle all productive industry with an encyclopedia of self-incriminatory mandates. Delving further into the abyss, we hear cries to put DuPont and Monsanto out of business for the crimes of creating enormously beneficial non-stick Teflon frying pans and the food enhancing agricultural herbicide Roundup, and now demands to extract trillions in wealth from electricity consumers over unproven claims of climate crisis.

Yet when it comes to major problems from government sewage dumping and socialized farm pollution—every effort is made to offer ridiculous excuses, provide blanket exemptions and often give taxpayer money to clean up their increasingly significant damage.

Radical environmentalists cannot be blamed for all these distortions and oversights. Even among the broader political landscape, entrenched prejudices and denial now abound at both ends of the spectrum. Absentee ownership and weak corporate leadership played major roles in allowing private-sector misdeeds to occur in the first place; these qualities now encourage government pollution and business harassment to proceed without effective opposition.

Conservatives and libertarians might actually gain some credibility if they offered any valid alternative to green hysteria other than “do nothing” and wait for the “miracle of the marketplace” to cure everything. That ideological blindness pushes millions of youths and moderates right into the arms of anti-business fanatics, who unfortunately now dominate most environmental discussions. Liberals might occasionally join the side of “progress” if they dare to question their ancient orthodoxies against all things private and in defense of all things centralized.

The public beach closures, sick swimmers, poisoned drinking water wells, routine fish kills and major aquatic dead zones indicate failure across wide segments of our ruling establishment. The present dysfunction won’t improve until we address the underlying legalistic hypocrisy that spawned these conditions in the first place.

• Category: Economics, Science • Tags: American Media, Environment 
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  1. Biff says:

    Hey, isn’t China supposed to be the environmental polluting punching bag, and not the good clean “we are here to help” U.S.A.?

    With the latest viral outbreak in China we have learned that eating wildlife is bad, so never mind with the pollutants that kill the wildlife – the stuff is no good anyway.

    • Replies: @Achmed E. Newman
  2. Oh, that reads like a proposal for a long stretch of articles and reports – just where? Mother Jones? National Geographic?

  3. J says: • Website

    All is true.
    I would wish the author would comment on the fantastic demands to extract trillions in wealth from California electricity consumers over unproven claims of climate crisis.
    Regarding the Government spilling sewage and non-point pollution to water bodies, I don’t understand what he means by the Government. Cities and farms dump pollutants, not the bodiless institution called government.
    The problem is how to enforce existing legislation on financially broken and non-functioning cities like Flynt and Detroit.
    Regarding agricultural pollution – the problem has no technical solution and less feasible enforcement. The problem needs study but as you write, it is not considered high priority. The survival of the Delta smelt anchovy is apparently more important. And saving the Earth…

  4. Amon says:

    Help me out here.

    Is this pro big business, anti government?

    Pro veganism, anti meat consumption?

    Anti farming or pro farming?

    I see so things in that contradicts eachother, but the real price has to go to the outcry that Monsato with its chemical weapon, roundup, is safe and clean.

    Last time i checked it was listed as a cancer causer, suspected of killing off bees in the millions endangering all land life on earth and causing infertility in males.

    • Replies: @anon
  5. Pertinent and relevant, oversight. Best annotation of the last three months, here on these u-n-z pages.

    Mentioning in direct lettering the trivvy and thrifty labbering of professional scribes is again very to the point. A ten.

  6. If things are so bad in US, imagine how much worse it must be in the Third World where sewage treatment is almost non-existent (%age of sewage treated: India 30%, Vietnam 19%,
    Bangladesh 17%, Cambodia 9%, East Timor 0%, Maldives 0%, Cook Islands 0%).

    But global warming could also be partly responsible for those growing algal blooms:

    • Replies: @Ship Track
  7. That was a thorough and enlightening article about the current major environmental problems in America that you shamefully won’t hear about on the 50th Earth Day activities come this April. As you say, all the hype will be about Global Climate Disruption(TM), or whatever they’re calling it now. I really hope this thread here does not become one long argument (usually started by a certain few commenters) on that subject.

    I doubt you’ll get many comments arguing your numbers on fish kills, dead zones, or the amount of fertilizer or dirty stormwater runoff. You will get, hopefully constructive, criticism of the last 10% or so, the political portion of your article. Let me start here:

    All of this is a far cry from setting and enforcing a few objective LIMITS or thresholds on pollution, then giving people the flexibility to achieve those standards as deemed most practical. In other words, this is not a false option of Big Government or No Government.

    I have not seen any other way from government in my lifetime. I could talk about an endeavor far removed from farming and the environment. It’s always like that: Bureaucrats are what you have in government, and often AA ones at that. They are not up for allowing flexibility. They have their myriads of regulation, and they go by the letter of the law. Thinking a lot is about the only thing that could get one fired.

    If you want specific examples in my field, I could give some, but let me just give an example many city dwellers, especially in California, would be familiar with. I came in for a smog check on a $100 used car I got from a friend. The gases coming out the exhaust pipe passed the test, but then I still didn’t have all the right parts under the hood. This caused a failure and a lot of grief for a 100 dollar car. That’s my small sob story, but it is analogous to your point. Government makes rules. Individuals in it do not get promoted due to actual results per the purported goal of their agency of employment. They keep their jobs if they follow the rules.

    Do you think Florida’s massive algae problems would be better handled by the State of Florida if the EPA did not get involved? (That is just a plain-old question, Mr. Penfield – not rhetorical.) I wonder if it’s just easy for the State officials to blame the EPA, as in “that’s their job – they make the standards – nothing we can do about it”, etc.

  8. On your experience with the media in your work in the environmental field, Mr. Penfield, again, I would say that this is not something that lots of us haven’t run into. The reader should think of some area that he is pretty much an expert on, no matter how small a subject. Thinking back on when a story in this area came up, how did the old-school Lyin’ Press deal with it? Extrapolate that to everything else, and you’ll see why I use that term for them.

    I told one newspaper reporter who wanted to interview me on something long ago – a local story – that I only would if he’d read me back his story when he got done and let me correct what needed correcting. He agreed, and he had about 10 things wrong, and he let me correct them … turned out to be a decent guy and a good way to handle it. On the other side of it, and regarding the TV folks, here is My Introduction to the Lyin’ Press.

    Face it, the reason for this media stupidity is simply because those who used to be reporters are now “educated” journalists who graduate from schools of journalism that contain the next lowest-quality students in the universities to the Education majors! It’s that simple. Most are not too bright. At the same time, due the long-lasting after-effects of that media glory from Woodward & Bernstein involving President Nixon 47 years ago, journalists all are gunning for that same glory now.

    The glory right now, and the money, BTW, is in the Global Climate Disruption(TM), with Greta Thunberg as the poster child of the stupidity of it. It’s a damn shame that the problems of high-rainfall-period sanitary sewer runoff or excess fertilizer usage don’t get the glory. You’d think in this age of cheap high-resolution color photography, we could get some pictures that could make that old Indian cry in a commercial again.

  9. @ Steve Penfield,

    Thank you, good sir. Your article is beyond anything I’ve ever read about pollution and the environment. Very nice read and very well documented. You’ve cohesively made your comprehensive case and it stands therefore solid as a rock.

    My compliments.

  10. Thanks for this article. I lived on Santa Monica bay for a couple decades, an area with some beautiful beaches whose water offered the uninformed swimmer ear infections, mononucleosis and hepatitis. Los Angeles storm drains poured directly into the beach water all year round. Seems to me most people had no idea just how polluted So Cal beaches are, but then again, too much information would start affecting the massive influx of tourist dollars.

  11. “Imagine, if you can, a seabed where instead of thriving seagrass there is a carpet of wet wipes. One already exists on the Costa del Sol, just 700 metres from the Maro-Cerro Gordo nature reserve, near Nerja. Guardia Civil investigators and scientists witnessed it in a five-day study last summer as part of their Operation Vastum inquiries.

    Based on photos and videos taken off the Nerja coastline at a depth of up to about 50 metres, they say that the bottom of the Mediterranean is home to a build-up of nine tonnes of the small disposable towels.”

    Just try to tell a warmist that there are other far more threatening eco-disasters and the reaction will be the same as telling Greta about how it was heavy metal pollution and autism that destroyed her childhood.

    • Replies: @J
  12. @Commentator Mike

    Brain shrinkage from global warming is the biggest threat to humanity today. Scientists have discovered that it is closely related to holocaustiality. In both cases goyim, when fed a steady stream of yid propaganda, end up not only believing the big lie, but worshiping it.

    Even in the face of mountainous proof that their hypothesis is completely invalid, these goyim have had so many brain cells destroyed and cross wired that they cannot accept the proof even if it bitch slaps them across the face.

  13. There’s only so much green consciousness available in the public. Back in ye olde millenium, environmentalism was about rain forest clearance, habitat and species extinction, real pollution like lead, cadmium, sulfur and heavy metals. But when you flood the public bandwith with CO2-nonsense, the other problems are displaced from the public consciousness.

    Twenty years ago, people would’ve been horrified about the absolute environmental hellscape that is China or India, but now we need to save the planet, so such triffling matters goes on the back burner

  14. W. Baker says:

    Nice, comprehensive article. One major, elephant-in-the-room angle of ‘government pollution’ not mentioned is the DOD pollution, here and abroad. Perhaps Mr. Penfield has an equally, almost exhaustive, article on that monstrous, belching, murdering polluter?

  15. I’ve got really good news, the average age of an American farmer is 59. We’re also broke and killing ourselves in high numbers. The Chesapeake Bay folks are about to do another round on the PA dairy farmer. Poor PA cows have been stuck in a feedlot because of bay regulations, and it just makes more liquid manure. Of course the primary crop in the Susquehanna Valley is new houses that are built on former farms Gotta bring in more foreigners from places like Central America, India, and China. You know places where many can walk on their rivers due to pollution. And what about Japanese plan to dump nuclear waste water into the Pacific? No siree, the American farmers’ fault. You know…white guys.

    One last rant. My great grandfather milked about a dozen Guernsey cows at the turn of the twentieth century. Made a good living being near Philadelphia’s Mainline and an abundance of mom and pop bottling operations. All of that died with the milk support system. Then when the professional class arose from many government regulations, and moved out of Philly. We added more cows like every dairy farmer does to stay afloat. At the time of our herd dispersal, we were milking about eighty Guernseys on the same farm my great grandfather had. We were in the Delaware River basin via the Schuylkill River. Good news you couldn’t discern our evil pollution because every freaking town on the Schuylkill has their water and sewage treatment on the river. There is a reason it’s called Schuylkill punch.

    • Agree: Johnny Walker Read
    • Replies: @obwandiyag
  16. Agent76 says:

    Jun 30, 2019 All Charges Dropped Against Officials In Flint Water Crisis

    Residents Allege Corruption In Case

    Dec 28, 2016 Flint Mom-Turned-Activist Describes City’s Disturbing Declining Health

    Melissa Mays, a mother from Flint, Michigan, and founder of Water You Fighting For?, tells Mnar Muhawesh on “Behind the Headline” why the people of of Flint still rely on bottled water for everything from drinking to bathing almost two years after state and local officials knew the city’s water supply was poisoned and how this has affected the population’s declining health.

    March 8, 2016 Drugs in the Drinking Water? Don’t Ask and Officials Won’t Tell

    When it comes to pharmaceuticals in the water supply, both drug industry and water treatment professionals say traces are so small they probably pose no public health risk. Yet they also admit that testing has begun so recently that no one really knows the long-term effects.

    Aug 13, 2015 The EPA Protecting The Environment?

    The recent EPA massive toxic spill into the Animas River in Colorado highlights the Agency’s total incompetence…and maybe worse. Should we still trust the government to protect us?

    • Replies: @anarchyst
  17. One of the best articles of seen here in many a day. Yes, it’s long, but well worth the time it takes to read. I don’t live in the USA, but in one of Commentator Mike’s 3rd world countries with one of the most pathetic bureaucracies imaginable, a laughing stock of p.c. waste with some 45% of the employed working for gov. When I was an adolescent in the USA (50s-´60s), we used to ask one another “Are you a man or a civil servant?” Yes, well…

    The indictment of government agencies, big-ag lobby groups, the propaganda machine that media has become, all of it was very well presented in great detail. And not once was there any mention of Jews! What a welcome change!

    A well balanced, objective presentation: kudos!

    • Replies: @Steve Penfield
  18. Big Daddy says:

    Disagree that libertarian answers are not relevant. Who owns the lakes and rivers and coastlines? Government. Were they privately owned you can bet that legal rights would lead to realistic polluting caps which the author states are what is needed.

    On another note, once again we have fascism in action. Big gov and big bz stifle innovation and rip us off.

  19. @Montefrío

    Thanks for the kind words. Yes, I do strive to keep it balanced and not fall into the lame trap of scapegoating one particular ideology. Tons of blame to go around on these topics. Also some easy steps forward that we’re not taking (pollution limits, Right to Know reporting, etc.).

  20. @Old and grumpy

    Every freaking town on the Schuylkill has a government-built-and-run water and sewage treatment plant. You forgot the important part.

  21. Typical of this shameless rag. A lot of stupid graphs–graphs make you look smart when you’re not–proving “Gobmint bad–corporations good.”

    Revealing who really pays for this website and what they are really about. Corporate shilling, as if I had to say it.

    For your information, the bad things the government does are caused by the corporations. Don’t you know the corporations own the government lock stock and barrel. Where you been for the last century?

    • Agree: james charles
  22. @Achmed E. Newman

    I agree it’s a very informative article, but I am disappointed at the slant against small-holders while favouring big business.

    Considering their gross inconsistencies and general track record, the anti-CAFO bias among green groups and mainstream media can most likely be attributed to the fact that large, organized farms are highly profitable compared to many small, inefficient farms that struggle to stay in business. As with urban welfare, advocates of central planning often cannot stand any member of their protected classes showing independent success; this makes the others look bad while bringing public “uplift” policies into question.

    There, comparing small farmers to welfare scroungers, and

    Maintaining the pristine image of “family farmers” has been a crucial part of their agenda for over a century.

    No doubt big businesses are more profitable and can cope easier with the increasingly more stringent regulations and the bureaucracy, than can small farmers. I believe there is a trend globally to make it more difficult for small farmers to survive so that large agrobusinesses can take over their small holdings, just like small mom and pop stores are being put out of business by big supermarket chains. This will make it much more difficult for ordinary people to set themselves up in business, especially to get away from the cities to the healthier countryside and operate small farms profitably, and will thus be reduced to becoming welfare recipients despite their best efforts. So it’ll be either work for these big businesses as a wage slave for whatever miserable salary and unhealthy conditions competing with immigrant labour, or go on the dole – not a bright future for any would be entrepreneur wanting to go independent and work for himself, or for small family based businesses and farms.

    But yes, monitoring and controlling point sources of pollution is easier than area sources such as from farms or road runoff.

    • Agree: Achmed E. Newman
  23. anarchyst says:

    If environmentalism restricted itself to truly caring for our natural resources, I would have no problem with it.

    However, with the secret science and questionable funding that these environmental groups possess taints the whole barrel. It turns out that many claims that environmentalists make have no basis in fact and are not based on good, honest, scientific investigation.

    This is why environmental scientists have to hide their data, as it does not fit their agenda. A good example of this is the so-called global warming crap, now renamed climate change.

    For one, the climate is always changing. The East Anglia emails in which data was purposely falsified by climate scientists comes to mind. Not only that, the climate scientists purposely installed temperature monitoring sensors in cities, contrary to manufacturers recommendations and good scientific practices, in asphalt-covered parking lots, and other heat sink areas in order to prove their (faulty) hypothesis. This is scientific dishonesty at its worst.

    It turns out that the solar system is in a cooling cycle due to decreased solar activity. There are two long-term solar cycles that reinforce themselves when in phase and cancel themselves out when out-of-phase. Look up the Maunder minimum. There are no SUVs on Mars or other planets, yet they are also experiencing the same solar variability.

    Environmentalism has been the method used to impose communist principles on western society, especially in the USA.

    Environmentalists are not content with promoting clean water, air and land, but are hell-bent on controlling human behavior, and yes, promoting extermination plans for much of humanity as these anointed types consider mankind to be a pestilence (except for themselves) to be reduced in population by any means necessary.

    Environmentalists HATE the God-given concept of private property and have imposed government-backed and enforced land use controls on private property owners without compensation, clearly an unconstitutional taking of private property. If environmentalists want to control land use, let them purchase it themselves, not by government force. Today the only method of negating government-imposed land use restrictions is shoot, shovel, and shut up.

    If environmentalists had their way, the earth’s human population would be reduced by approximately 90%, with the remainder to (be forced) to live in cities, in soviet-style high rise apartments, utilizing bicycles, buses and trains for transportation. The use of automobiles and access to pristine wilderness (rural) areas would be off-limits to us mere mortals, and would only be available for these anointed environmentalists.

    The endangered species act is another abuse of environmentalism. Species are always changing, to adapt to their environments-survival if the fittest. In fact, the hoopla over the spotted owl (that placed much northwest timber land off-limits to logging) turned out to be nothing but scientific misconduct and arrogance. There are virtually identical species in other parts of the northwest.

    More scientific malpractice occurred when government biologists attempted to plant lynx fur in certain areas to provide an excuse for making those areas off-limits for logging or development. Fortunately, these scientists were caught, however, no punishment was imposed.

    In order to promote the false religion of “global warming” aka “climate change”, NASA “scientists” purposely installed temperature sensors in city parking lots and roads contrary to good scientific principles and practices in order to “skew” the “global warming” results.

    In a nutshell, today’s environmentalism IS communism like watermelon-green on the outside and red (communist) on the inside.

    It is interesting to note that communist and third-world countries have the WORST environmental conditions on the planet. Instead of the USA and other developed countries spending billions to get rid of that last half-percent of pollution, it would behoove the communist countries to improve their conditions first.

    Here is a question for you environmentalists:

    Why is there a push for restrictive environmental regulations, but only on the developed first-world countries, and not the gross polluters such as India and China?

    • Replies: @Commentator Mike
  24. One general note I’ll make. I see that none of my photo captions made it over to the final published version. Probably more of a concern for me than most readers.

    For example, the first photo is from NRDC. Second image (nutrient chart) is from USGS. Etc.

    If there are any folks that want the full article in MS Word with all the captions, just shoot me an email at [email protected]

    I won’t put you on a mail list…

    BTW – kudos again to Ron Unz for publishing this piece and lots of other original content. Unz Review was always my first choice. But while waiting in line, I reached out to some other left/right standard sites. Zero interest. Way too many other sites only publish safe, predictable, partisan blather. Very nice to have one independent publisher that doesn’t rely on corporate ads and doesn’t resort to wallowing in state-sponsored propaganda.

    • Replies: @Anonymous
  25. anarchyst says:

    Most environmentalists miss the point when it comes to reduction of pollution.

    Let’s use automobiles as an example. A large “cost vs. benefit” ratio was beneficial when it came to controlling pollution from automobiles.

    Initially, it did not take much in the way of engineering to “clean up” approximately 85% of automobile pollution. Such environmentally responsible successes were made at minimal cost and did provide a true large benefit in minimizing pollution at the source.

    As it stands now, automobiles are approximately 97% pollution-free. While it may have cost a small amount to clean up automobiles to this point, attempting to clean up the remaining 3% would cost thousands of dollars per vehicle–a cost-benefit ratio that is economically and environmentally unsustainable and unachievable.

    Most environmentalists are neither scientists or economists and do not understand the implications of attempts to “clean up” the remaining small percentage of pollutants which are negligible.

    A 97% reduction in automobile pollution should be considered a success, but to today’s luddite environmentalists, it is never enough.

    A major problem is that most environmentalists base their faulty reasoning on emotion, rather than logic and scientific facts.

  26. J says: • Website
    @Ship Track

    Pumping raw sewage into the Mediterranean? It is a closed body of water and there are binding international agreements that every country has to treat its sewage. I know that North African countries are not doing it, but Spain is a rich country that lives off turism and should/could stop it.

  27. @Achmed E. Newman

    Mr. Newman – thanks for the feedback. One thought I’ll add to your comment:

    After your pull quote of mine: In other words, this is not a false option of Big Government or No Government.

    You said: “I have not seen any other way from government in my lifetime.”

    I agree that federal gov’t usually goes to one extreme or the other, pandering to corporate interests or abusing their power to buy welfare votes. But it’s not always the case at the local level (e.g., speed limits, blood alcohol limits, etc.); both are objective and enforceable. Good, not perfect. People ask the feds to do way too much, then get burned and wonder why.

    As I’ve mentioned before, local HOAs are usually very reasonable in protecting property value. It’s those “liberty nerds” that often pitch such a fit about their inalienable “rights” to grow knee-high weeds, etc. Pure grandstanding that helps no one. Socialists hate HOAs as well; maybe they’re not violent enough for totalitarians’ amusement. I’m not a big fan of unbalanced fanaticism, no matter what label we put on it.

    As for state vs. federal control over Florida Ag pollution, I wouldn’t spend much time speculating who is better (or less corrupt). State officials are beholden to the Farm Lobby as well.

    I see more potential for progress at the local level. When people in affected towns and counties demand to hold sewage dumpers and agrarian slobs accountable (e.g., basic pollution limits, Right to Know reporting, not much else) then things should gradually get better.

    • Replies: @Achmed E. Newman
  28. Biff says:

    Where you been for the last century?

    Hosing your wife.

  29. anarchyst says:

    The Flint “Water Crisis” is owned, lock, stock and barrel by ONE political party in Michigan-the liberal Democrat party…

    The Flint Michigan Democrats are so dirty that they are blaming the “Flint Water Crisis” on the former Republican governor and on the state, NOT on their own incompetence, criminality and greed.

    You see, Genesee County and the city of Flint wanted to get off the Detroit Water System and establish its own regional water system, the “Kareghnondi Water Authority”.

    Previous to the “switch” water was supplied to the Flint area by the Detroit Water System from Lake Huron. This was accomplished by existing pipelines that take water from Lake Huron all the way to the Flint border. In fact, there is a second pipeline parallel to the existing pipeline that is a part of the Detroit System that is not being used.

    The Kareghnondi Water Authority opted to install a NEW (third) pipeline to Lake Huron in order to get away from the Detroit system. This involved much time-consuming effort as “right of way” and “eminent domain” issues needed to be worked out.

    The city and county officials could not wait for the new pipeline to be completed, so they opted to take water from the Flint River, which, everyone in Michigan knows, was highly polluted from decades of industrial processes.

    To add insult to injury, city and county officials refused to spend $50.00 per day for anti-leaching chemicals which would have prevented the lead leaching problem that they are all talking about.

    It is government incompetence and criminality of the highest order committed by Democrats.

    The city of Flint has since reconnected to the Detroit Water System.

    As an aside, it is well-known that the Detroit Water System produces the highest quality of water in the country.

    • Replies: @Agent76
  30. @Felix Krull

    Agreed, Felix, though what I’ve seen is some environmentalists that argue about “The Warming!” first when describing another thing the government should control but then transition to “well, but they also do other polluting, too …” I’d just like to hear the straight truth, such as with the factual part of this comprehensive article.

    You are absolutely right that this CO2 nonsense is taking all the “bandwidth” as the people who don’t know what bandwidth means say.

  31. @Steve Penfield

    I agree completely. Now, I hope you don’t think I want to get into another argument with you, as I really like your writing and material. I will say, though, that what you are taking about is, though not Libertarian exactly, is going in that direction – local control.

    Another quick thing: You are right too, on the diminishing returns (at least what I think you were getting at in part of the article). Some of the stuff in California is ridiculous. The problems what were solved 98% of the way decades ago are ones the government keeps pushing expensive and annoying-to-consumers to fix down to 99.8%, when there are the huge problems you wrote about here. That those at the top are idiots is my only explanation.

    Ask me about the CARB sometime – been meaning to write a blog post about the daily annoyances due to that organization that affect people far, far from California.

    Gotta go, but I’ll write more later. Thank you for writing back, Mr. Penfield.

  32. @obwandiyag

    For your information, the bad things the government does are caused by the corporations. Don’t you know the corporations own the government lock stock and barrel. Where you been for the last century?

    Indeed, one of the bends in an overall relevant piece. There is no distinction in Government and Corporations interests.

  33. Agent76 says:

    I agree with most of your thoughts. Government was ever designed to be efficient at anything.

    SEPTEMBER 25, 2016 200 Millions Americans Threatened By Toxic Levels Of Carcinogenic Chemical In Tap Water The ‘Erin Brockovich Chemical’

    In 1993, Erin Brockovich was a key player in the case against Pacific Gas and Electric when it was found to be polluting the water of Hinckley, California with chromium-6, a carcinogenic chemical. Now, a new report by the Environmental Working Group has found that the chemical is actually still in the drinking water, threatening 218 million Americans.

  34. @anarchyst

    It’s all a scam. Henry Ford designed his Model T to run on alcohol(a much cleaner burning fuel)as well as gasoline. John D Rockefeller put an end to Fords dream of alcohol as a fuel when he backed prohibition(through the temperance movement), which resulted in laws making it illegal for any citizen to make alcohol and provide their own fuel.

    Years later Stanley Meyer was poisoned in a Cracker Barrel restaurant(March 21 1998)to make sure his patent(and dream)for a water powered car would not come to pass.

    More on Stanley Meyer:

  35. @anarchyst


    What’s communism got to do with this?


    Moscow street 1969:

    Moscow street now:

    Beijing street 1960:

    Beijing street now:

    • Replies: @anarchyst
  36. anarchyst says:
    @Commentator Mike

    Human nature, being what it is, denotes that those who are able to OWN their land will be more likely to take care of it, rather than ownership by government of the commons.

    In communist countries, where individual property ownership is forbidden or highly restricted, the impetus to “take care” of that property is lacking. If you don’t own it, the need to claim responsibility for is absent.
    Individual private ownership makes all the difference in the world.

    Even in the USA, government “owned” property is less likely to be properly cared for than individually-owned property.

    All one has to do is look at the Animas River that was “ruined” by the government agencies in charge.

    Betcha no government types will be held responsible for that fiasco…

  37. Mike Tre [AKA "MikeatMikedotMike"] says:

    “Initially, it did not take much in the way of engineering to “clean up” approximately 85% of automobile pollution. Such environmentally responsible successes were made at minimal cost and did provide a true large benefit in minimizing pollution at the source.”

    It also did not require government meddling because reducing waste is directly related to increasing efficiency. Developing a more efficient (fill in the blank here) is a natural process.

    • Replies: @Achmed E. Newman
  38. Thomasina says:

    Excellent, excellent article. Well done! Thank you. The creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (1970) and the start of moving industrial production to China seem to coincide.

    Manufacturing jobs (most likely polluters) moved offshore to Asia, to be replaced by big, fat, heavily-subsidized agribusinesses (definitely polluters).

    EPA becomes the insurance policy, making sure that manufacturing jobs don’t come back. Too much money being made by multinational corporations using slave labor and enjoying no environmental rules in Asia. EPA keeps their mouth shut on agribusiness pollution.

    Jobs go to China, and then the manufactured goods are shipped back to the U.S. via one of the biggest polluters of all – the giant container ships (“Just 15 of the biggest ships emit more of the noxious oxides of nitrogen and sulphur than all the world’s cars put together”.)

    U.S. agribusiness pollutes the land and water bodies in order, in part, to grow soy for the Asian market, and then it’s shipped there using the same container ships. If agribusiness was held to the same environmental standards as the prior manufacturing was, they’d be shut down.

    It’s like the pollution never let up. One was just replaced with another.

    Which one (manufacturing or agribusiness) provided good, well-paying jobs for U.S. citizens? Manufacturing.

    Which one (manufacturing or agribusiness) provides more jobs for illegal immigrants? Agribusiness.

    Slave labor used by agribusiness here in U.S.

    Slave labor used by U.S. manufacturers in China.

    The U.S. citizens get “service” jobs.

    • Replies: @Steve Penfield
  39. S says:

    But high-tech equipment become irrelevant when leaky sewer pipes overload the plant causing pollution to bypass treatment and trigger waves of beach closings. Government’s inability to fix this longstanding problem beckons the old saying: “We can put a man on the moon” … but not handle this?

    Quite true.

    And the most explicit ‘no swimming’ signs are of little use when you’ve got folks who simply won’t heed the warnings. 😉

    • Replies: @Steve Penfield
  40. @Thomasina

    Thomasina, thanks. I especially like your last 5 lines. Nice to see someone else has picked up on how manufacturing does so much more good (jobs, technology, paying taxes) than agribusiness, but never gets credit for it.

    Big Ag was the original purveyor of slavery, but they usually get a free pass on that (and water wasting, land hording, tax dodging, exploitation of cheap immigrant labor, etc.). With gov’t on your side, you can get away with anything.

    Actually, my next article will delve into the greater political mess of socialized farming a bunch more.

    • Replies: @Thomasina
  41. @S

    Nice photo. Where did you get that?

    • Replies: @S
  42. Envison this:

    US de-intensifies agricultural practices and reverts to “environmentally friendly” farming practices that put large numbers of people to work as yeoman farmers.

    Output by tonnage of product declines drastically; quality of product rises.

    No ag surpluses to feed (gifted) all the overpopulated “flies in the babies’ eyes” breeder shithole countries.

  43. @anarchyst

    I agree here, Anarchyst, and I’d written my reply to Felix Kroll before I’d read all the comments, including yours. I didn’t mean to repeat your point here on diminishing returns.

    Besides it being the usual not caring about OPM (Other People’s Money), the California Gov. environmentalists are just unimaginative as all hell and want to just keep working on problems that have already been mostly fixed.

    I had to shop around for the old formula Olympic Water Seal, as they’d changed the formula to eliminate VOCs based on the California Air Resources Board. I didn’t like the new stuff. I called the company in Cleveland and got a live person who told me I’d just have to look around to get the last of the old stuff. I scored four 6-gallon cans that I guess are gonna have to last me for life.

    • Replies: @Achmed E. Newman
  44. Anonymous[427] • Disclaimer says:
    @Steve Penfield

    Hi Steve,

    I wasn’t able to read your whole article because it’s just too damned long! articles are normally much shorter. You’d be able to fit the pattern by condensing a lot of data into short talking points.

    I accept that you do have some very good points though. I’ll keep watching the comments section to get more of the gist.


    • Replies: @Steve Penfield
  45. S says:
    @Steve Penfield

    I borrowed it from a Leslie Nielson tribute blog linked below. [The still is of the late Nielson in one of his Naked Gun film roles.]

  46. @Biff

    I know it’s a long article, Biff, but Mr. Penfield mentioned in it he was going to stick to writing about these pollution problems in question with regard to America. The problems in China are much worse, but perhaps the writer is concentrating on this country’s problems because, he is, like, American, or something?

    I’m glad you brought this up though, about China, as a whole ‘nother lever of environmental ruination, I wrote a post about a day at the zoo called “Someone told me it’s all happening at the zoo…” during which the damn zookeeper went on about not throwing plastic bags in the river THE WHOLE DAMN TIME that we wanted to watch the seals and sea lions get fed.

    Well afterwards, I read an article – discussed in this post – Trash in the rivers – get off our case, zookeepers!” – in which overwhelming numbers are given for the amount of plastic going into the ocean from the rivers that run through China compared to America’s rivers. The plastic from all the rest of the world’s rivers combined was said to be equivalent to that coming from just one of China’s rivers, such as the Yangtze.

    I’ve been to China nearly a dozen times. At one point, we stayed in what was I was told was a “resort area”. I had no earthly idea why.

    • Agree: Steve Penfield
  47. @Achmed E. Newman

    ooops, the diminishing returns business is in my reply to the author.

  48. Thomasina says:
    @Steve Penfield

    I look forward to your next article.

    I was just reading about the Ogallala Aquifer:

    “Without Ogallala water, significant portions of the High Plain’s agriculture and related businesses are entirely unsustainable, which could threaten the existence of entire towns whose economies are dependent on water drawn from the aquifer. There are global implications as well, as the region produces one-sixth of the world’s grain produce. A study from Kansas State University predicted that the aquifer would be seventy percent depleted by 2060 if irrigation practices do not change.”

    These guys just can’t suck these aquifers dry fast enough! Reminds me of the tuna fishery on the east coast. It took thousands of years to build up these aquifers, and yet….. Same thing in northern India and Africa. These countries had better curtail their exploding populations, or else there will be a lot of people dying in the future.

  49. @Anonymous

    So, the article was “too damned long!” I assume you’ve never read a book? Those are much longer, usually full of useless info. For all the new material here, I thought 14,000 words was pretty condensed.

    BTW, I’m surprised I haven’t seen any comments directly on the hyper-legalism issue I touch on towards the end. Fake News is still pushing the narrative that private-sector industry is “unregulated.” That’s a total lie. Only government pollution from sewage dumping and socialized farming is unregulated. State media is fine with that too.

  50. Mr. Penfield, My compliments on your excellent article. It is the best I’ve ever read regarding Ag and the environment. I have worked in Ag for over 25 years and i have worked specifically on water quality. As you state accurately, pollution will never be fixed with nutrient management plans which are just government subsidized paper pushing to the newly created class of “crop consultants.” This is a class of technocrat that has been created by all of the regulations which put no restrictions upon ag and are nearly 100% subsidized by the government, so its a win-win for farmers (they don’t have to pay anything and immunized against further regulation), while the technocrats benefit by ensuring compliance with a piece of paper and also being a conduit for government money for other programs.

    My only quibble with the article is in echoeing Commentator Mike’s comment that more govt regulation only favors the large over the small. Big Ag is very much part of the problem. In pollution, and in immigration. i do agree with you that being Big doesn’t have to be bad though. i also agree with you on Roundup which is very controversial as people just are not aware of how far gone our legal system is at this point. that isn’t meant to be a defense of Monsanto (which doesn’t exist any more). i know you know this, however, a lot of people don’t.

    Again, great writing!

    • Thanks: Steve Penfield
  51. @Steve Penfield

    The word-count was justified for once (most articles here on u-n-z lately cannot say that much). Almost all books with ambitions can be condensed into less of concise, relevant, original content. Especially to be mentioned, textbooks, the ones on economics theories are scraps-united, bible-like.

    As a well meant critique, the distinction between government and corporate interests, individual politicians interests, and the few billionaires interests, behind the wall of middle class bidding slaves deserves elaborating on.

    • Thanks: Steve Penfield
  52. @Felix Krull

    Twenty years ago, people would’ve been horrified about the absolute environmental hellscape that is China or India, but now we need to save the planet, so such triffling matters goes on the back burner

    …Still “China and Russia bring nothing new to the table” is a-l-w-a-y-s ignored in this aspect here on unz.

    Back in ye olde millenium, environmentalism was about rain forest clearance, habitat and species extinction, real pollution like lead, cadmium, sulfur and heavy metals. But when you flood the public bandwith with CO2-nonsense, the other problems are displaced from the public consciousness.

    For three years now, calling it “toxicity”, this aspect of your concern was completely ignored here on unz. We need the lesson by your likes in relevancy, instead of whining about the next elections and Trump or not, as if these trivialities matter but for stuffing the limited processing power of readers with junk for the brain. It is well understood that controlling the media is about keeping people in the vicinity of the golden calf of con-z-umerism. Alternative (media) or not.

  53. Tusk says:
    @Steve Penfield

    Hi Steve,

    The hyper-legalism is an issue of which I personally care about, so I definitely enjoyed reading your take on it. It is definitely something that should be examined more as all it does is facilitate a parasitic occupation of the layman by nothing more than a neo-priestly class. How is it moral to have the rules of any system, let alone society, described in hundreds of thousands of pages with references to and fro across interlinked laws? I say it is certainly not moral. A citizen in society, let alone businesses you mentioned, are required to seek legal advice on many simple things because of this tangled web of restrictions.

    I feel even worse thinking of all the people who are especially unable to understand the law. While I may look up acts and amendments to read what is specifically the case, there are many people who lack the comprehensive reading skills or analysis skills to understand the depth of some of these arbitrary restrictions. Next thing you know you’re receiving excessive fines for who knows what because you misread or misunderstood exactly what a piece of legislation was trying to say.

    But whereas when I as a private contractor or a business make some commercial mistake, and are forced to pay hundreds of thousands in dollars in fines, along with punishments or go out of business, any Government lawbreaking is often facilitated with arbitrary punishments such as changing the Government representative who oversees a certain area, or pitiful compensation paid for out of tax dollars. It is most certainly a system wherein the productive people pay a large fee to participate and get railroaded under any mistake whereas Governments are free to appropriate from the people funding to undertake disasterous enterprises.

    Great take on the situation here:

  54. roonaldo says:

    Thanks for a most informative article. Makes me shudder to recall swimming where “no swimming recommended” signs were up. But I was a young adult and living two blocks from the Atlantic Ocean. I’m still a proponent of family farms and viable small towns–remembering relatives’ farms, throwing hay bales, and driving combines.

    Reading Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” at a young age kept me unenthused about pesticides and seeing the strange effects herbicides had on plants along railroad rights-of-way as a college freshman made me leery of those chemicals and the later Roundup Ready GMOs. Roundup is not the same sort of herbicide.

    So, it being time to update my brain, I’ve been internet searching and reading the last couple of hours–very interesting and a brief rundown follows–amidst scattered and semi-decipherable notes.

    Glyphosate, Roundup’s active ingredient, first patented in 1961 and used to remove minerals from pipes (chelation). Another source said first patented as an antibiotic. Not fat soluble, doesn’t build up in tissues like, say, DDT. Kills plants by affecting the Shikimate pathway, which animals don’t possess (but which bacteria do).

    Dr. Deborah Kurrasch, Univ. of Calgary, says glyphosate non-toxic or possibly affects mitochondrial function. A Dr. Roslov, notes it’s effects on mobility of the water flea “daphnia” in the lab and potential effect on filter feeders and food-chain. Both describe how adjuvants (the additives) in commercial formulas produce effects not seen in glyphosate alone. The EU banned the combo of POE tallowamine with glyphosate due to poisonous effects. Difficult to determine how to test commercial formulas since manufacturers don’t have to list percentages of “inert” ingredients. Manufacturers have to do toxicity tests (like Boeing was allowed to certify it’s own aircraft?). France fined Monsanto in 2009 for claims Roundup is “biodegradable,” “environmentally friendly,” “leaves soil clean.”

    Dr. Don Hubert, plant pathologist, considers glyphosate more dangerous than DDT, wreaks havoc on soil and gut bacteria, produces oxidative stress & two “death proteins,” cupase (sp?) 3/7, a reducing pathway to cell death due to toxicity. Forty-nine percent farms have super weeds, as plants develop resistance, was thirty-four percent in 2011.

    Dr. Stephanie Sirceff (sp?), M.I.T. and Dr. Anthony Sansell (sp?), glyphosate particularly good at killing beneficial bacteria (bacteria outnumber body cells 10 to one), chelation removes minerals from soil and thus the plants, causes digestive illnesses such as Crohn’s, etc., and neuro degenerative diseases such as Alzheimers, MS, ALS, Parkinsons, depression, allergies.

    Sorry for parentheses in lieu of italics as I’m using a phone for this and a bit of a klutz, and any misspellings. Not promoting anyone’s research or claims, and apologies if I misconstrued anyone’s research, as it was a very brief inquiry and notes were sloppy. Live long and prosper.

    • Replies: @roonaldo
  55. roonaldo says:

    That’s Dr. Don Huber
    Dr. Stephanie Seneff
    Dr. Anthony Samsel
    caspase 3/7

    I also need to turn off that damn autospell–and get a drink–cheers!

  56. @Steve Penfield

    I’m surprised I haven’t seen any comments directly on the hyper-legalism issue I touch on towards the end.

    That may be because some of us, cough, cough, don’t want to get into day-long arguments with you on this thread. As I wrote above, I doubted you’d get any arguments on your numbers and the scale of this problem. (I had thought you’d get the one or two guys that would show embedded videos, pics, and graphs in dozens of posts each to show that “yes, somehow the entire Earth’s climate had been modeled accurately and precisely” though, and am a bit pleasantly surprised.)

    What I mean to say is that we seem to have argued over definitions and such about Libertarianism. What you note here, about the big guys getting away with “murder” in the environmental realm, while the small guys get regulated and paperworked to death, is something any red-blooded Libertarian would whole-heartedly agree with, or damn sure ought to! I happen to be one. The field I am in has loads of examples of this. Useless regulations are made by government with the big players on board with it, or at least aware of how to handle it. The small guys get screwed, as they don’t have, and can’t afford, the lawyers and such to deal with it.

    I’m not looking for an argument, because I do agree with pretty much your whole political discussion that’s the last 10% or so of your article.

  57. anarchyst says:

    Look up the Rapanos case. He was harassed by both the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers for filling in hundred-year-old ditches on his farm. The case made it all the way to the supreme court.
    The nexus of the government’s claim was its authority to regulate “navigable waterways”. Rapanos property was over 20 miles from “navigable waterways” but the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers still came after him.
    With agencies such as the EPA and others having the ability to tell you what you can do on your own land, do you really own your land?

    • Agree: Achmed E. Newman
  58. UPDATE: Thought some folks might be interested in hearing what EPA / USGS / NOAA think of my article on the U.S. problems of public beach closures, millions of sick swimmers, poisoned drinking water wells, routine fish kills and major aquatic dead zones that they all are supposedly “regulating” while also subsidizing.

    Since most bureaucrats probably don’t read Unz Review, I specifically emailed a link to my article with a polite request for feedback. For my email, I looked up program-level managers in the mostly EPA Chesapeake Bay Program (16), at USGS (20) and also at NOAA (9). I skipped the very top administrators, since they can’t be expected to respond to every email.

    Nearly two working days later, I have not gotten a single reply from any of those 45 public servants. I am a little surprised, since I had nothing but positive things to say in my essay about USGS and NOAA. (I was being generous; both are really downplaying the problems. It’s just that EPA is much worse.)

    I’m thinking a direct video interview may be necessary at some point, but I’d need tech assistance for that. I’ve had off-the-record conversations with some agency staff in the past on these topics. Lots of agency prestige is at stake here. Lots of rotting skeletons that Legacy media will never touch.

  59. Nearly two working days later, I have not gotten a single reply from any of those 45 public servants. I am a little surprised, since I had nothing but positive things to say in my essay about USGS and NOAA. (I was being generous; both are really downplaying the problems. It’s just that EPA is much worse.)

    I’m thinking a direct video interview may be necessary at some point, but I’d need tech assistance for that. I’ve had off-the-record conversations with some agency staff in the past on these topics. Lots of agency prestige is at stake here. Lots of rotting skeletons that Legacy media will never touch.

    Being ignored is standard policy on the side of any authority. Including @media(whatever). You got a pass here at That must have a well enough reason, go past that, and be black-holed. You will never know what caused it. If there is counter-pressure, it will be stealth, to the editor, and probably never come to your ears. Being on the feed-chain as is, your position is precarious. Regardless of rational and logic, merit, thorough-ness. Admiring as to your blind side, or is it play? you cannot n-o-t be aware of the above after all? Beware, the other side (hard place) of the rock is the reader base, that one is culled in sequels also. Finally as to the latter, catering to the public at large is a moron’s game. The nexus as to direct action and interference is totally lost on the concise and relevant quality of information you provided.

  60. SafeNow says:

    Whenever I hear a politician mention improving infrastructure, the phrase always stops after “roads, bridges, and tunnels.” I can’t recall hearing a politician uttering the word “sewers.” Too gross to say, they seem to think. Or other missing words related to this article. Not flashy enough. The standard, truncated phrase came-up again in the SOTU address.

  61. @Mike Tre

    A little late here, Mike, but I wanted to mention some more treehugger BS that is related to what you wrote here. It’s about recycling. I’ve seen cities in which the residents are so smug and virtuous-feeling because they put their recycling in the BIG BLUE CAN and their other trash in the little teensie bin. Well, whatever is in that big one will only really get recycled if it’s worth it to someone, barring, as you say, government meddling.

    Loads of that “recycling” material gets routed to the same place as the stuff from the other little bin at the transfer station. The aluminum pays, some of the plastic may pay, steel (from old cars*) does, depending on the markets, etc.

    The thing is, it’s not at all that there’s no room in America for more landfills, as was the big worry by the treehuggers 3 decades ago. No, those people were full of, uhhh, recyclables. The deal is that it gets expensive to truck trash out past the exurbs that surround most modern American cities – it’s diesel burned and miles on the trucks. If you look at with the economics as key, the right decision will be made without anyone’s meddling. Free markets rock.

    I’ve written about this subject a while back in a post called “Toward Sustainable Stupidity”. The worst part about all this is, as I listened inadvertently to NPR on the radio recently, it turns out that NPR agrees with me. That is quite unsettling.


    * The most recycled assembled product that there is, by my estimates.

    • Replies: @james charles
  62. “”We can put a man on the moon” … but not handle this?”

    The team at NASA is more than likely the best of the best but who knows what detritus is running the other agencies!

  63. anon[331] • Disclaimer says:

    There’s a lotta gobbledegook there.
    For a start he says:

    … environmentalists’ correct assertion that meat consumption creates a bigger impact on the environment than growing vegetables, due to the heavy fertilizer inputs and water usage for animal farming;

    so, you might assume he’s talking about CAFOs, but then further down he defends CAFOs as being unfairly targeted by the bad environmentalists..
    Where are the heavy fertiliser inputs and water usage on Cattle and Sheep ranches
    and small dairies, let alone compared to industrialised food and non food crop farming?
    Conclusion: Livestock numbers are due to take a 28% hit under the Paris Climate Accords.
    Trump pulled out of the Paris Accords on his first day in Office, but under the Rules, there’s a 4 year Notice Period before the withdrawal comes into effect.
    I’m just guessing that Livestock is just calculated as Biomass under the Paris Accords, so the CAFOs are likely to throw the Ranchers and Dairymen under the bus to save their own skins.
    And if that’s right, then either Trump has an Epiphany over the Paris Accords, or he’s not getting Inaugurated next January.

  64. @obwandiyag

    “Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence. The results provide substantial support for theories of Economic-Elite Domination and for theories of Biased Pluralism, but not for theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy or Majoritarian Pluralism. “

  65. @Achmed E. Newman

    Yeh. “Free markets rock.”

    “As Axel Weber remarked, afterwards:
    I asked the typical macro question: who are the twenty biggest suppliers of securitization products, and who are the twenty biggest buyers. I got a paper, and they were both the same set of institutions. . . . The industry was not aware at the time that while its treasury department was reporting that it bought all these products its credit department was reporting that it had sold off all the risk because they had securitized them . . . “

    “The root problem of 2008 was a failure to recognize that the highly leveraged money center banks had used derivatives not to distribute subprime mortgage risk to the broad risk bearing capacity of the market as a whole but, rather, to concentrate it in themselves.”

    Rocked ‘us’ into the ‘great recession’?

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