Leader Blues

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

SAT 4-26-6 EDITORIAL >> Pleasing polluters

Asa Hutchinson, the Republican candidate for governor, said this week that Attorney General Mike Beebe should be fighting harder to see that the poultry industry gets to keep choking the mountain streams of northwest Arkansas with algae. And Beebe, his opponent, said no one could be working harder than he is to do just that.

You can guess that Hutchinson and Beebe were not talking to the Sierra Club or the Arkansas Wildlife Federation but to the powerful Arkansas Farm Bureau. They would be ducking that subject if they were campaigning before environmental groups.
But we are all surrogates in that room when the men who seek to serve our interests are campaigning before special pleaders like the poultry farmers and the industry they serve. Is this a debate we want our candidates for governor to be having before any group?

Both Hutchinson and Beebe will couch this argument in different terms from ours. It is a matter of economic development and of state sovereignty, they say. The state of Oklahoma is trying through the agency of the federal courts to force chicken farmers and the poultry industry in northwest Arkansas to abide by Oklahoma’s tougher laws because hundreds of tons of chicken litter dumped on the hillside grazing lands in the Ozarks is filling the Illinois River with phosphorus, and that element causes the furious growth of algae and otherwise poisons the water for drinking or fish. The river flows out of Arkansas into Oklahoma and threatens potential water supplies there.

If the circumstances were reversed and Oklahoma was ruining our streams, would we expect our attorney general to be trying to stop it in every legal way he could? Of course we would.

Oklahoma’s attorney general is doing that. He is something of a hotdog (he secretly planted water-monitoring devices in the Arkansas hills last year) and he is having some sport with Gov. Huckabee and with Beebe, who have rushed to the defense of the polluters. Beebe tried to persuade the U. S. Supreme Court to let him intervene in the federal case to represent the polluting interests in Arkansas.

He lost. So Hutchinson told the Farm Bureau this week that Beebe’s defense of the polluters was just too weak. He could be doing much more. Beebe told the farmers that he had other strategies up his sleeve to thwart Oklahoma’s clean-water forces, but he did not want to tip off the Oklahomans by telling the Farm Bureau in an open forum.

Arkansas has been fighting this battle within our borders for years, and it has resolved it only to the satisfaction of the poultry farmers and the cattle industry, which profits from the heavily fertilized pastures.

What we’d like to hear from the candidates for governor, among many other things, is how they can really resolve the conflict between healthy streams and farm prosperity. Because our own leaders were interested in nothing more than pleasing the richest interest group, our neighbors probably will solve it for us in the end. It could be the state motto: Let someone else do it.