Odious and Peculiar

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Forging the Sampo

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Monday, July 07, 2008
Rod Dreher interviews Michael Pollan

I passage I like, which goes well with my last post:

...given the preciousness of arable land, I think we have to take a look at the rules governing the conversion of farmland in the same way that if you want to build on wetlands, you have to meet a very high burden. I know that’s not a conservative idea, but if we reach a population of 10 billion, we will really regret all the houses we are putting up on some of the finest land in the world.
And something I didn't know:
We can only grow animals in this kind of confinement with antibiotics, but when we start using them in these amounts, we’re suddenly breeding lethal microbes. Look at the staph infection that killed 19,000 Americans two years ago—more than died from AIDS that year. That microbe has been traced to pig farms in Europe and Canada. We haven’t traced it to pig farms here because the industry won’t let us study it, but presumably it’s happening here as well because we swap pigs with Canada all the time.
19,000 people?! Seriously? A quick Google search does find that number elsewhere. Where's the media hype over this one? I'm glad we're still working on our Delta, Colorado pig.

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I am afraid to disillusion Mr. Pollan but if you have money then there is nothing to stop you from building on wetlands, much less farm land. In California there is the Williamson Act which is supposed to protect prime and unique farmland but it does not do that as often as we would hope. The problem is at the city/county planning level, and with the supreme court. Cities and counties are the ones who decide zoning, the ones who are truly in charge of what gets built. For them building permits are a source of revenue (the Army Corps of Engineers does not charge a fee for the Nationwide permits (projects with less than 1/10 acre impact) and for individual permits (larger impacts) the fee is only $100). City budgets depend on building permits and also an expanding tax base. There are projects in my office that we really do not want to permit because of prime/unique farmland, below sea level (behind levees), or size of impacts. But the county has ok'd it, is now even advocating it, the applicant has bought mitigation for the wetland impacts, and we are finding it tough to come up with a legal reason within our jurisdiction to say no. The Supreme Court has made it all the more difficult by taking away the Migratory Bird rule (see SWANCC) that we used to claim jurisdiction over isolated waters such as vernal pools and prairie potholes. Unfortunately, if the applicant has money they can usually buy enough mitigation to allow teh project to go through or they have enough clout that their congressperson will listen when they call and complain. But for the fact that California does not have hurricanes, the Sacramento delta would be another Katrina waiting to happen. Actually, we already are should we get as much rain as they got in Iowa this year.
'Bout time these two got together!
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