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Taxes, dust, and oysters: Feds busy but wrong

By Dennis T. Avery
web posted August 16, 2010

The Obama administration seems deeply committed to policies that can't work.

The President is demanding hefty energy taxes to "save the planet." Unfortunately the proposed reductions in U.S. greenhouse emissions would have virtually no impact on the earth's temperatures—even if CO2 is the culprit that it doesn't seem to be. A 22 percent correlation between CO2 and our thermometer record isn't very strong evidence on which to rake away an annual $900 billion in extra "energy taxes."   

Meanwhile, the EPA is trying to deregister pesticides to which it has already given a clean bill of health, to appease the chemophobes on the Left. That currently means banning atrazine, a key ingredient in no-till farming, the most sustainable farming system Americans have ever had. Stanford University says such high yield farming has forestalled the plow-down of another 7 million square miles of wildlife habitat—and forestalled the loss of soil carbon equal to one-third of the world's industrial emissions since 1850! 

EPA is also proposing to clamp down on farm dust. It may be news to EPA, but a lot of farming activities necessarily raise dust. Should we sprinkle water over the harrows and no-till planters, over the grain augers, over the lime application trucks, and the farm pickups driving down unpaved roads? That would be hugely expensive and time-consuming not to mention taking scarce water away from the crops and cities.

My favorite Obama dead end is the Chesapeake Bay project. Over the past 30 years, we've spent billions of federal dollars trying to reduce the nitrogen and other nutrients that get into the Bay, with absolutely no impact on the murky water. The Obama strategy is to double down, as they did with their British-style "health care reform" that has failed everywhere—including Britain. But as the British decentralize their medical decisions to 50,000 doctors, the EPA will now install mandatory farm management requirements around the Bay.

When the Bay was healthy, the water stayed clear because it was constantly filtered by the Bay's huge oyster population. The oyster-cleared water fostered more eel grass on the bottom to shelter baby crabs and fish. The oysters and eel-grass also broke down huge tonnages of nitrogen and other nutrients naturally. Then the oyster population collapsed.

The logical key to a clean bay is restoring the oysters. Until recently, we just didn't know how. We may now have that capability.

The new strategy has little to do with farming and nitrogen. The Corps of Engineers has produced a rapidly expanding oyster population in the Great Wicomico River by rebuilding the high shell reefs (12–16 inches) typical of the natural Bay. These high shell reefs kept the oysters up off the river bottom, above the sediment, and in strong enough currents that the viruses now ravaging the Bay mollusks had far less impact. The Great Wicomico now has 185 million thriving oysters, about as many as all the waters of Maryland!   

This success strongly suggests that oyster dredging caused the Bay shellfish collapse, especially the power dredging allowed since World War II. Restoration would mean building high shell reefs in many of the key streams, and protecting them from harvest until they've had a chance to expand the high shell reefs and reseed the bay with spat.

We'll also need a new, cost-effective way to harvest the oysters, without going back to the laborious hand-tonging. Does that mean vacuum tubes, handled by scuba divers?  This line of approach certainly looks more productive than the Obama call to shut down the Bay region's high-yield farmers.

Insanity is continuing to do what you've been doing, and expecting a different result. ESR

Dennis T. Avery, a senior fellow for the Hudson Institute in Washington, DC,  is an environmental economist.  He was formerly a senior analyst for the Department of State. He is co-author, with S. Fred Singer, of Unstoppable Global Warming Every 1500 Hundred Years, Readers may write him at PO Box 202, Churchville, VA 24421 or email to cgfi@hughes.net.

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