Don’s Speeches and Writings

President’s Letter, Kansas Stockman Magazine”Environmental Activism”

February, 2001

I have a confession to make. I am an environmental activist. But before you get too concerned, let me explain. I am guessing that you and nearly every other Kansas rancher and farmer are as well, in the sense that we take actions on a regular basis to protect the environment and preserve the earth’s resources. Reflect on the many practices we typically employ:

  1. Cross fencing or piping water for improved grazing distribution
  2. Rotational grazing
  3. Terracing and contour farming
  4. Designing cattle pen drainage to flow into waste stabilization ponds
  5. Utilizing no-till and conservation-till farming methods
  6. Measuring soil nutrient content prior to fertilizing
  7. Planting tree windbreaks and wildlife food plots

This is a list of activities on my particular operation, but your list would probably be similar and may be much longer. By contrast, consider the steps taken by a typical suburbanite to protect the environment:

  1. Set the recyclables out on the curb
  2. Write a dues check once a year to favorite environmental organization

But remember that while the suburbanite may own an acre or less of property, each of us in agriculture controls hundreds or thousands of acres. And since we control significantly more of the earth’s resources we have greater opportunity as well as greater duty to act in an environmentally responsible manner. And for the same reason we are watched closely by local, state and federal regulators as well as private environmental groups. But as the list above illustrates, we are already taking action in many ways, and I believe the vast majority of farmers and ranchers will continue to adopt environmentally responsible practices when the necessity is adequately demonstrated and when the costs are fully quantified and shared equitably. Unfortunately these points are where we often part company with regulators and environmental activists. Too often regulations are proposed that are not science-based and whose necessity has not been proven. Frequently the costs are vastly underestimated and those proposing the regulations show little regard for the effect they may have on agricultural interests or other industries.

One has to wonder why the regulators and environmental activists can’t see that unreasonable, non-science-based proposals do not really further the cause of protecting the environment. Because such outlandish proposals are immediately rejected by those in agriculture and industry, an “us vs. them” mentality develops on both sides. Last September at the Dodge City hearing on the EPA’s proposed water quality standards for the state of Kansas, Charles Benjamin, CEO of the Kansas Sierra Club, was receiving a cool reception from the audience during his testimony. In frustration he turned to lecture the audience. “You folks just don’t understand”, he informed us, “we are doing this for your own good.” But what the bureaucrats and activists regard as intransigence on our part is just our natural resistance to measures we view as unproved, unnecessary and very costly.

When the EPA proposes water quality standards that are unattainable or of questionable benefit, when a new coalition is formed by animal welfarists, environmentalists and large law firms to battle the swine industry, or when a local “environmental” group pressures county commissioners to adopt standards that would prevent the introduction of new confined livestock operations, it is appropriate to question whether protecting the environment is their true motivation. It is possible that some hide behind the environmental banner to advance very different hidden agendas. While they talk about saving the environment, their true objective may be to prevent economic growth, to restrict the size of individual businesses, to dilute private property rights, or simply to expand bureaucratic power. It is time that we demand a higher degree of responsibility from those who would saddle our industry with burdensome environmental regulations. It is time to insist that future regulatory proposals are strictly science-based, that the necessity is adequately documented, and that all costs, both public and private, are fully accounted for. If their true interest is protecting the environment they should have no trouble agreeing to these requirements. But if they refuse then we will vigorously resist further regulation, because we will have concluded that the real issue is not protecting the environment but rather is about bureaucratic power, private property rights, and socioeconomic philosophies.