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Business Before Environment--Al Franken

Our government has consistently appointed those who represent business to protect the public from their corporations.  Bush has followed that tradition


Vast Lagoons of Pig Feees:

The Bush Environmental Record
Al Franken
Lies And the Lying Liars Who tell Them
Dutton, 2003

I want to draw you a word picture of a lagoon you may remember from Gilligan's Is­land, where a caged lion or an Indian in a canoe might wash up just to get that week's episode rolling. This lagoon is a rectangle the size of three football fields, lined with 40-mil high-density polyethyl­ene and filled, to a depth of thirty feet, with pig shit.


Now imagine that, at the bottom of the lagoon, pebbles have punctured the liner, allowing the liquefied pig shit to seep under and ferment. A bubble is growing. The polyethylene liner rises like a creature from the brown lagoon. It breaks the surface, spilling a pungent stew of untreated feces and urine into a nearby creek. An undocumented Guatemalan worker is ordered to puncture the liner with a shotgun blast. Retching, he fires. The swollen liner re­treats into the fetid depths. Mission accomplished.


The next day, however, one of the most magnificent sights in all of nature, a shit geyser, explodes into the afternoon sky. Those working nearby watch the pillar rise ten, then twenty, then thirty feet above the lagoon. It is as though the Earth itself is afflicted with a virulent case of projectile diarrhea.


Hold that image in your mind.


George W. Bush is the worst environmental president in our nation's history. As you read this, his self-interested coterie of in­dustry shills are dismantling the protections that you and I take for granted.


Our air, water, and wildlife are under attack. How could this have happened under the watch of a man who spoke so passionately and with such quiet eloquence to this very issue in his very first presidential Earth Day speech?


Each of us understands that our prosperity as a nation will mean little if our legacy to future generations is a world of polluted air, toxic waste, and vanished forests. ... I en­courage Americans to join me in renewing our commitment to protecting the environment and leaving our children and grandchildren with a legacy of clean water, clean air, and nat­ural beauty.


I know I joined him in renewing my commitment. Not too many people realize how much celebrities can do to improve the envi­ronment. Remember how I'm a nut for statistics? Well, not too many people realize this, but show biz celebrities make up just .000000001 percent of the world's population, and yet consume nearly 37 percent of its resources. For example, every day, sev­enteen acres of rain forest are consumed by Barbara Streisand alone.


After Bush's speech, determined to do my part, I wasted almost twenty minutes trying to persuade my son to accept a Prius as a graduation gift, in place of the 280-horsepower Infiniti G35 coupe I had promised him in a weak moment.


So I am pulling my weight.  I wish I could say the same for J. Steven Griles, the deputy secretary of the interior.  Instead of renewing his commitment, like the President told him to, Griles opended public lands to oil, gas, and mining interests, all while still receiving money from his former employers in the oil, gas and mining industries.  Griles’s appointment has been a particular boon to a sector of the coal mining industry that is not afraid to think big:  the mountaintop removal sector. 


You see, when you remove the top of a mountain, you can gain ready access to what is inside, be it diamonds, molybdenum, or most commonly, bituminous (or "dirty") coal. The thing is, a removed mountaintop doesn't just vanish. The top of the moun­tain has to go somewhere. And that somewhere is usually a nearby valley.


Griles himself has had plenty of experience removing unnec­essary mountaintops. As an executive at United Company, he oversaw the Dal-Tex mine in West Virginia, which occasioned one of the largest mountaintop removals since Krakatoa. The mine was not what you would call a good neighbor. When miners det­onated mountain ridges, filling in valleys and burying streams with trees, rocks, and thirteen species of songbird, they also sent boul­ders flying into local houses. As you can imagine, neighbors com­plained, not just about the boulders, but also about the choking dust.


Griles's inconsiderate behavior did not end with the boulders or the asthma-inducing debris. United Company set up huge coal-loading machines that ran twenty-four hours a day, right next to homes.


For years, a number of regulations have interfered with the ability of mining companies to remove mountaintops. For exam­ple, until recently, it's been illegal to dump the mountaintop into a nearby stream or river. The Bush administration has changed all that, by rewriting the Clean Water Act's rules to allow mining waste to be dumped directly into many heretofore off-limits wa­terways.


The President would argue that our natural resources are best managed by people intimately familiar with all the relevant regulations and statutes, and the tricks polluters use to evade them.


I agree. Such people include academics, regulators, and envi­ronmental advocacy groups. Experts all. Oh, but let's not forget the lobbyists for the polluters themselves. In their own way, they are every bit as expert. This last group seems to be disproportionately represented in this administration. There's people like:






Currently in charge of


Previously lobbied for polluters of


Mark Rey


Undersecretary of








Agriculture for Natural








Resources and














Bennett W. Raley


Interior Assistant








Secretary for Water








and Science






Rebecca Watson


Assistant Secretary


Land that


Land that




of the Interior for Land








and Minerals














Carmen Toohey


Special Assistant to








the Secretary of the








Interior for Alaska






Patricia Lynn


Assistant Secretary of








the Interior for Policy,








Management, and















I am not going to put you through a long list of horrible environ­mental actions taken by this administration. Instead, I refer you to what TeamFranken calls the Internet. For instance, a Google search of the terms "Bush, horrible, environment" yields 42,500 websites, some of which discuss Bush's environmental record without any reference to horny, barely legal coeds.


Instead, I want to focus on what, for me, is the symbol of the Bush administration's relationship to the environment: the sky-scraping pig shit geyser.


The scene I described at the beginning of this chapter was not from some science fiction movie. It's very real. It happened on one of the growing number of factory farms that are despoiling vast tracts of America.  It is very, very shitty story.


Before we start, allow me to make it clear that I love meat.  In fact, I am eating meat right now. Sitting to my right are two members of TemFranken.  Sitting to my left are two pounds of summer sausage. 


Twenty years ago, the hogs produced in this country were raised by family farms.  Today three companies produce 60 percent of all the hogs in America. And they do it in factory farms, or CAFOs: Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations.


Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations are, perforce, Con­centrated Animal Shitting Operations. Every hog produces ten times as much feces as a human being. Imagine if you produced ten times as much shit as you do right now. You'd probably be able to read this entire book on the can, instead of just this one chapter.


A single CAFO in Utah is home to 850,000 hogs, producing as much shit as the city of New York. New York City has fourteen sewage treatment plants. CAFOs have none. This presents some­thing of a problem.


In order to dispose of hog waste, farmers have, since time im­memorial, used it as fertilizer. It's a nice idea. The pig eats an ear of corn and, two or three minutes later, takes a dump. The shit is then used as fertilizer to grow more corn, which is then fed to the pig, producing more shit, and so on and so forth. It's the circle of life.


The concentration of hundreds of thousands of animals in a small area has disrupted this delicate balance by overloading the shit side of the equation. The waste from a hundred thousand pigs cannot be recycled in the same way. This is where our lagoons come into play.


A typical factory farm lagoon holds anywhere from five to twenty-five million gallons of untreated pig shit. As you might imagine, it smells a bit. In fact, according to pilots, you can smell a CAFO shit lagoon from an altitude of three thousand feet. The I vicinity of an industrial hog farm are, with each breath, made keenly aware of the cause of their declining property values. If you live downwind of a CAFO, the value of your property drops thirty percent. If you drink a glass of orange juice, it tastes like hog shit.


"I've seen grown men cry because their homes stank," says Don Webb, a very sad retired hog farmer.


The shit stink is exacerbated by the practice of spraying excess shit into the air and onto fields of Bermuda grass when the lagoons threaten to overflow. The industry maintains that spraying the shit onto Bermuda grass is a productive way of recycling the sewage, al­though the grass is so toxic that it will kill any animal that eats it. At any rate, most of the sprayed shit just goes into the environ­ment, seeping into the groundwater, into the air, and into rivers and streams.


In 1995, a spill from one of these lagoons killed a billion fish in the Neuse River of North Carolina. Every year since, dead fish have continued to wash up onshore by the tens of millions. They're not dying from the smell. No, these fish are falling prey to a pre­viously unknown life form spawned in the pig shit basins and car­ried into the river waters: thepfiesteriapiscicida. This dinoflagellate is a microscopic free-swimming single-celled organism that can mutate into at least twenty-four different forms, depending on its prey. It attacks the fish, stunning them with one toxin, then liquefying their flesh with another, then feasting on the liquefied skin and tissue. This is why so many of the fish in the Neuse (dead and alive) sport horrible, bloody lessons.


The fishermen and bridge keepers of the Neuse have also developed these ugly sores, which is why they don’t wear shorts on a first date.  Of course, it’s hard to get a date when you suffer from lethargy, headaches, and such sever cognitive impairment that you can’t remember your own name or dial a telephone number.  Which psiesteria also causes. 


Because the meat industry in this country has become vertically integrated, Big Meat has put the small independent hog farmer out of business. Twenty years ago there were 27,500 family hog farm­ers in North Carolina alone. Now there are none. Today, a single company named Smithfield owns more than 70 percent of the state's hogs. Small farmers are learning that you can't beat Big Meat.


Nobody claims that factory farming is pretty. But its defend­ers say that it brings economies of scale that drive down the price of meat for consumers. This is true as long as you don't factor in the shit. Bobby Kennedy, Jr., president of the Waterkeeper Al­liance, told me that, if the waste were disposed of legally, the cost of pork from factory farms would be higher than pork from fam­ily farms.


They cannot produce hogs, or pork chops, or bacon more ef­ficiently than a family farm without breaking the law. They aren't about the free market, because they can't compete without committing criminal acts every single day. Their whole system is built on being able to disable or capture gov­ernment agencies.


They're not in favor of responsibility, or democracy, or private property. It's just about privatizing the air, water, all the things that the public's supposed to own. They are try­ing to take them away from us, privatize them, and liquidate them for cash.


That's the only coherent philosophy they have. That's it.




To be totally honest, I wish the Clinton administration had done more to address the pig shit problem. But at least he was pushing in the right direction. Toward the end of his administra­tion, the EPA issued stringent new CAFO regulations, requiring hog factories to take responsibility for their waste and initiating suits against some of the violators.


When Bush took office, his appointees gutted the regulations. Eric Schaeffer, head of enforcement for the EPA, resigned in disgust after being told to drop the agency’s cases against the offending conglomerates.  The administration cut a deal granting immunity to factory farm air polluters, and its Republican allies in Congress defeated a proposal by Paul Wellstone to bar hog pro­ducers from also owning the slaughterhouses. As Bush's stance on pig shit became clear, you could hear the squeals of joy at Smithfield.


They say that a rising tide lifts all boats. But in a pig shit lagoon, the only boat that rises is the one on top of the geyser.


Perhaps there is someone reading this who is saying, "Give me a break, Al. I don't care about pigs, or pig shit, or family farms, or mountaintops, or this pfiest-a-mahoosey, or the environment." To you, I have this to say: You were not legitimately elected pres­ident, sir.


But I respect the office you hold, and I'm honored that you're reading my book. 



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