Dan Murphy: ’Tis The Season

Virtually every nonprofit group of any size or stature has its proverbial hand out, seeking donations from loyal or otherwise supportive followers to fund their various campaigns and causes in the New Year to come. ( . )

For anti-industry activists to gin up their fund-raising appeals — just in time for their acolytes to divert some Christmas cash to the cause … of destroying production agriculture, that is.

As the holiday season reaches a crescendo leading up to December 25th, virtually every nonprofit group of any size or stature has its proverbial hand out, seeking donations from loyal or otherwise supportive followers to fund their various campaigns and causes in the New Year to come.

The goal of such appeals is to get supporters to fork over the cash they need to fund future fights that they assure their donors will result in a final score of Eco-Activists 1, Factory Farmers 0.

One of the more aggressive such groups, both in its fund-raising and its messaging, is the activist organization Food & Water Watch, which for decades has made its mission the demonization of production agriculture. The group is headed by a very vocal — literally — executive director, one Wenonah “The Shouter” Hauter.

I’ll give her credit: she’s smart, she’s passionate, but oh, Lord — don’t make the mistake I made many years ago (one time and never again!) of trying to engage in a civil dialogue with her. Asking a zealot like Hauter to broker a reasonable compromise that balances agricultural production with environmental protection is like asking a born-again veganista to chop off a chicken’s head, pluck its feathers and shove the carcass into preheated oven to become the centerpiece of a holiday meal.

Food & Water Watch’s holiday appeal begins: “Despite the odds, people like you across the country have chosen to fight back. 2018 was a year filled with people-powered victories that prove we can win, even with corporate opponents that massively outspend us.”

To that end, the pitch then goes on to brag that the group “Doubled down against polluting factory farms by stopping a 30,000 head factory farm in Lost Valley, Oregon, by pressuring the [state] Department of Environmental Quality to revoke their (sic) permit.”

Unfortunately, none of that statement is accurate, nor grammatically correct, for that matter.

Behind the dairy’s demise

Here’s what actually happened.

In 2017, state regulators approved a wastewater permit for the expansion of a dairy farm near Boardman, a small town along the Columbia River in northeastern Oregon. The 7,000-acre Lost Valley Farm, a project spearheaded by one Greg te Velde, owner of the nearby Willow Creek Dairy Farm, was slated to eventually house up to 30,000 cows.

According to reporting by The Oregonian newspaper at the time, the operation was subjected to strict regulations intended to protect surface and groundwater from contamination. Leah Feldon, deputy director of the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, told reporters that the department had done “extensive review and work” on the permit to ensure compliance.

Of course, environmental groups opposed the permit; that was to be expected, as any livestock operation that size is automatically labeled by activists as a “factory farm” and thus a target for an attack on environmental grounds.

However, although Food & Water Watch, along with a number of other prominent eco-activists are taking credit this holiday season for “stopping a factory farm,” the truth is that the dairy’s managers did it to themselves.

As the Portland Business Journal reported, “Practically from the start, the dairy farm struggled to meet those original permit obligations.” In a March 2018 lawsuit, state officials cited “overflowing waste storage lagoons” and accused te Velde of “endangering the groundwater in the Lower Umatilla Basin.”

A settlement was reached that allowed Lost Valley to remain in operation, but according to the magazine, a follow-up inspection just days later discovered an overflowing lagoon and several other violations, such as “a pile of solid waste stored on an unprepared surface.”

Ultimately, although the farm at its peak housed only about half of the anticipated 30,000 head of dairy cows, regulators recorded a total of 32 violations between June 2017 and May 2018, several of them serious. The result was the revocation of the dairy’s wastewater permit.

“Over the last year we have used every regulatory tool available, including civil penalties, to gain compliance,” Alexis Taylor, director of the Oregon Department of Agriculture, said in a statement posted to Twitter. “We believe the owner is not willing or unable to meet the conditions of his permit that helps protect human health and the environment.”

The activist groups that opposed the dairy, which included Food & Water Watch, several Oregon-based groups and the Humane Society of the United States, could barely contain their glee in issuing a statement that said in part, “The state’s action follows a renewed call from numerous organizations which sent a letter to Gov. [Kate] Brown asking that her administration shut down Lost Valley.”

But such boasting is akin to a special teams player celebrating his tackle on a kick returner, when in fact the returner stepped out of bounds without being touched.

Then having his agent proclaim that, “My client deserves a lucrative contract extension, so he can keep delivering those devastating hits to opposing players.”

The average fan would be forgiven for being confused, as the average consumer might be when eco-activists take credit for a shutting down a farmer whose own incompetence is what scuttled his operation.

The opinions in this commentary are those of Dan Murphy, a veteran journalist and commentator.

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