November 25, 2008 at 5:37PM
by Kim Flottum
In the spirit of Michael Pollan's open letter to the Farmer In Chief, here's a short note to the incoming Administrator of The Environmental Protection Agency:
I send this before your name has been announced, and probably before you have accepted the invitation by the President-elect to run this organization. The people in Washington D.C. that suspect they know have listed many outstanding, capable and caring people as possible candidates. Kennedy, Nichols, Sussman, Renstrom, Learner, McGinty and Jackson have all been mentioned ... but even if you are not one of these I am quite certain that you were chosen because you, too, have excellent credentials, the proper experience and the right attitude to run this Cabinet-level agency. People like Rucklehaus, Rielly, Costle, Thomas, and Browner have protected the best interests of the environment and the people of this country, while not seriously impeding the businesses that share these same resources. Some before you have favored the environment in the extreme, some have given in to businesses. In retrospect I think most left their jobs with the country, and usually the environment a better place. At least they all said that that is what they wanted to do when they took their oath of office. I trust you will do the same.
The accomplishments made since your Agency was founded by Richard Nixon nearly 40 years ago are staggering, including the phase out of leaded gasoline, safe drinking water, the PCB ban, asbestos cleanup, wetlands protection, FIFRA, passive cigarette smoke laws, lead based paint restrictions, FQPA, the clean air act and now even nanotechnology reviews. And these are only the highest of the highlights. Your Assistant Administrators and Regional Offices will bring you up to speed on what has been done regarding the 30 or so major areas your agency deals with on a regular basis. But it is the future that you must focus on, and though I know you have much to do, above all please do not forget to do exactly what the title of your Agency says it is supposed to be doing ... You are the person in charge of PROTECTING OUR ENVIRONMENT.
To that end, some of what your new boss has in mind is carefully spelled out. His major campaign issues were health care, energy independence, climate change, and now, certainly, the economy. Moreover, his environmental/agricultural focus centered on maintaining a safety net for family farms, strengthening anti-monopoly saws, regulating CAFOs, COOL labeling, establishing more organic agriculture, setting aside more land, and getting more young people into the field.
A big part of your job then, as I see it, is to make the major issues mesh well with these environmental and ag issues. Of course you have Agriculture to help with some of this, and your assistants in air, enforcement, pesticides, R & D, waste management, water and the rest will give you a hand, too. Meanwhile, the issues of inexpensive food, safe food, and enough food are becoming more important daily, and, as Mr. Pollan so eloquently pointed out ... these issues, too, are directly in line with the ideas of the new man in the Oval office. Add to this stew the complications he (and thus you) must deal with between free trade, subsidies to farmers in both rich and not so rich countries, producing and not producing countries, and you have, Mr. or Ms. Director, your hands full.
Let me be so bold as to offer some thoughts on all this.
I don't know if your background is in science, business or the law. But no matter what the new man says, what direction he heads you toward, what your instincts say, what your experience and training tell you, the best advice you can possibly get won't come from me, from him or the many groups who have, too, the best interests of the environment in their sights. No, listen first to the people who work for you. Who want to work for you. Who have been where they are through good and not so good times, who actually listen to the people who live on the land, breath the air and want to help. Listen to those who are passionate, who care, who worry about their children and the planet where we all have to live. Listen to those who have endangered their futures by petitioning the very position you now fill, pleading to change the direction the agency was heading. You need to hear them.
And listen too to the money people. The business people who are on the other side of the balance sheet. Listen and learn. They too often get their way it seems, because they have the loudest voices, the most expensive suits, and the best people working for them. But you can, if you choose, open the doors of your organization and rid yourself of their hidden agendas, their profit seeking ways, these secret keepers who control our food - the seeds and the chemicals that protect them and the markets that sell them ... those who own the food chain and keep us dependently tied inside. These are the bandits from the Agricultural Agrichemical Complex. They have come, and gone, and come again. They do not belong in your house.
Making sure your house is free from the indulgent sins of your predecessors makes good sense, because you can, with the simple stroke of your pen make sure there are no longer secret cupboards filled with promises and half-truths from that monster Complex. You can throw the money changers from the temple. So it should be. Finally, again.
But listen too, to the voices that can hardly be heard because they are telling the most important story. There's no profit in these voices. No carbon tradeoffs. No gas or oil or coal or mines in these voices. There's no rape and plunder and slash and burn or poison in these voices. That's why they are so seldom heard.
Let me tell you of one such voice, one among many. To me, it is the loudest voice there is. And if you hear it, if you listen, and if you help, some of the issues the new man wants solved may just get easier. Listen closely.
This is a simple voice, often unnoticed but thankfully no longer ignored. Of course I refer to the quite hum of our honey bees.
You probably know something of their problems. You know the money promises made and so far not kept. I suspect there's little you can do about that. But there is one important thing you can do. Listen to the good people who work for you who know of the problems and some of the solutions.
They will tell you that our bees have trouble. They have trouble from monocultural, commodity-dominated chemically enhanced nutrition. They have trouble from foreign mites and diseases, and trouble from as of yet unknown and unseen things in the world outside their hives. These are the worst of times for our bees. But you can put an immediate stop to some of this trouble ... the worst trouble there is, and it is plainly known. You can stop, for a time if needed, forever if necessary, the spread of poisons throughout the land that are killing our bees. Killing our pollinators. Killing our insects, our birds, our butterflies and what's worse, killing what we don't even know.
So first things first though. Make gone the money changers. Repair the parts or your agency that need fixing. Listen to the people who daily make it work, address the changes your boss wants, then listen again to the hardly-heard voices still here.
I urge you to make this a priority, because once done, once you and those who work with you can again speak freely, can work with care, can realize that the place we all live can be good, and safe ... then all that your new boss wants done will be, if not easy, at least easier.
Good Luck, Mr. or Ms. Administrator. Our hopes and our future go with you.
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