The defunct Organic Farming Act of 1982 is making a comeback as the Agricultural Productivity Act of 1983. Last year's bill died on the House floor when the measure came up before its backers could generate sufficient support in Congress. But this year's proposal, which is worded in more conservative language and accompanied by a well-coordinated lobbying effort, has received unprecedented support in both legislative chambers.
The Productivity Act—which was introduced in the House by Oregon Democrat James Weaver and in the Senate by Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy—provides funds to:
- Study the transition of 12 farms from energy-intensive operations to organic production (using water- and energy-conservation techniques and natural fertilizers).
- Analyze the productivity of farms that have used conservation methods for the last five year.
- Establish programs to pay part of farmers' costs for natural fertilizers and soil-erosion control.
- Direct the U.S. Department of Agriculture (which has slashed its organic farming research) to reexamine existing extension materials.
"Until recently," says Friends of the Earth's pesticide campaign coordinator, Bob Scowcroft, "a good deal of the public perceived organic farmers as a bunch of naked hippies in California. But this image is changing as organic farming is becoming a $100 million-per-year business. Superfarms may still have higher yields, but after borrowing [money] at 15 to 20% to cover costs, their owners frequently come out in the red, while organic farmers often come out in the black."
It's not likely that the Productivity Act will shake the foundations of U.S. agriculture. But it should, if passed, help in making sustainable agriculture recognized as a profitable and environmentally sound method of farming. Apparently, Congress thinks so, since the bill has 51 cosponsors in the House and 13 in the Senate (as compared to a total of less than 20 for 1982's measure). The bill was scheduled for hearings in late May or early June, but action may be delayed: Contact your Representative about HR 2714 and your Senators about S 1128 to solicit their support.
Wisconsin Resources Protection Council to Fend off Mining Corporations
Midwestern environmentalists, local officials, and representatives of several American Indian tribes have banded together (as the Wisconsin Resources Protection Council) to fend off powerful mining interests in the region. And not a moment too soon: 20 large corporations have already bought or leased about 400,000 acres in the area.
Exxon Corporation is leading the fray with its plans to develop what could be the world's largest copper and zinc lode near Crandon, Wisconsin, only two miles west of a Chippewa reservation. In fact, the Chippewas recently learned that Exxon hopes to be able to use part of their reservation for the project! The wastes from such a mining operation would threaten the tribe's water system, including the wild rice wetlands that are their major source of livelihood. Exxon's alternative disposal solutions are not being met with open arms, either, so the company is likely to get heavy opposition from the 80 different community groups that are resisting the plan.
Palau Islanders Resist U.S. Department of Defense
The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) ran upon the shoals of the growing antinuclear movement in the Pacific recently, when their proposal for a treaty—the Compact of Free Association—with the 15,000 people of the Palau Islands was not warmly received. It seems that the DOD is willing to offer Palau $1.2 billion in aid over the next 50 years, in return for the use of about a third of the islands' territory for military bases and weapons storage.
Palau's three-year-old constitution has the world's first provision banning the storage, testing, and disposal of nuclear and toxic materials. What's more, a February election reiterated that stand when the islanders rejected the portion of the DOD's proposal concerning nuclear materials. The department is now suggesting that the Palauans change their constitution to suit the terms of the compact—a proposal that's not particularly popular with the residents.
Mixed Environmental Impact from New Jobs Bill
Though the $4.6 billion jobs bill passed by Congress and signed by President Reagan is expected to provide work for only 2.8% of the nation's 14 million unemployed, it does contain some worthwhile proposals from an environmental point of view. The piece of legislation allocates $100 million for low-income home weatherization, another $50 million for school and hospital weatherization, $229 million for mass transit assistance funds, $40 million for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, $50 million for Small Business Administration urban forestry grants, $25 million for historic preservation programs, and $40 million for restoration of city parks.
Unfortunately, there was also some traditional pork barrel fat added to the bill, which absorbs about half of the funds. The Department of Agriculture gets $700 million dollars for rural sewer development, a prime motivator of urban sprawl. And $100 million goes to the Soil Conservation Service for digging out stream channels (which is officially designated "flood protection"). Amazingly enough, $505 million is committed to the Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation for building dams!
Environmentalists lobbied heavily to reduce the amount of funds going to the Corps and the Bureau. And, in fact, Senators John Chafee and Daniel Moynihan offered an amendment to cut $188 million and $21.7 million, respectively, from the two agencies. Their proposal also provided that most of these funds ($200 million) would go instead to the EPA municipal sewer construction grant program. The Senators based their recommended cut in the Corps' budget on Army statements that it couldn't spend all the money it received last year(!)…while the $21.7 million Bureau deletion would still have left them with their original supplementary budget proposal for February 1983. Both agencies, however, rallied to the task of using the extra money, and the Chafee-Moynihan amendment was defeated.
Nuclear Power Plant Construction Moratorium Upheld
As many of you probably know, on April 17 the Supreme Court ruled that possible psychological stress on nearby residents need not be considered as a restraint to restarting Three-Mile Island's undamaged Unit I reactor. But in another high-court ruling, California's moratorium on the construction of new nuclear plants (until a method of safe waste disposal is established) was upheld. This decision is a significant blow to the growth of the nuclear industry, although it doesn't affect the 80 operating plants or 58 others already under way.
The Reagan Administration has speeded up the search for a waste disposal site for the 8,000 tons of used fuel and the thousands of tons left over from weapons production. The Nuclear Policy Act of 1982 dictates that a site will be chosen by 1987 and put into operation by 1998 in one of the following states: Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, Texas, Utah, or Washington. There's no guarantee, however, that the selected site will be welcomed by the residents of the state, and any of the states can veto the selection unless both houses of Congress override that decision.
Quite obviously, then, the resolution of the waste disposal problem is a very "iffy" matter. Who knows? It may just prove to be the final nail in the coffin of the nuclear industry.