Minnesota — Big agribusiness interests are among the largest roadblocks to clean water in the United States, according to a new report by Environment Minnesota Research & Policy Center. The report, “Growing Influence: The Political Power of Agribusiness and the Fouling of America’s Waterways,” was released today.
“Corporate agribusiness is not only causing a lot of pollution problems, they are also standing in the way of efforts to clean up and prevent pollution” said Samantha Chadwick from Environment Minnesota. “Giant agricultural companies are throwing around millions of dollars to fight to continue polluting our rivers, lakes and streams.”
The report included an analysis of campaign contributions and lobbying expenditures.
• Three of the top ten agricultural spenders on campaign contributions and lobbying are headquartered in Minnesota: American Crystal Sugar, Land O’ Lakes, and Cargill.
• In September 2010, Minnesota Representative Collin Peterson, then Chairman of the House Agricultural Committee, introduced H.R. 6273, a bill that would allow polluters to discharge pesticides into our waterways without a permit. If H.R. 6273 passed, it would prevent state and federal environmental agencies from overseeing proposed uses of pesticides in or directly around waterways under the Clean Water Act.
• According to congressional lobbying expenditures, Land O’Lakes and the Minnesota Farm Bureau lobbied on H.R. 6273 during the third quarter of 2010 as the bill was being drafted. Land O’Lakes’ spent $170,000 lobbying on “permits for pesticide applications (H.R. 6273, S. 3735)” among other issues.
• Large agribusiness firms have cultivated influence with Representative Peterson through campaign contributions. The top four contributors to Peterson’s 2010 congressional campaign included the American Farm Bureau ($16,750), Monsanto ($14,999), American Crystal Sugar ($10,700), and Land O’Lakes ($10,250).
The report findings also included the national influence of the agribusiness lobby:
• Over the past decade, ten large agribusiness interests spent $35 million to influence congressional elections – led by the American Farm Bureau, which spent $16 million.
• Agribusiness interests gave more than $120 million to state-level candidates, party committees and ballot measures.
• From 2005 to 2010, the 10 leading agribusiness interests spent $127 million lobbying Congress and federal agencies, fielding 159 lobbyists in 2010.
• Monsanto and the American Farm Bureau led the pack, fielding 80 lobbyists in Washington, D.C., in 2010.
Pollution from agriculture contributes to poor water quality here in Minnesota and throughout the country. Too many of Minnesota’s waterways are so polluted that they are unsafe for fishing or swimming, and cannot maintain healthy populations of wildlife. According to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, about 40% of waters tested do no meet basic health standards. Minnesota also exports high levels of nitrogen-contaminated water to the Mississippi river, where it contributes to the “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico.
The number of documented areas off America’s coasts where the oxygen is so low that most creatures cannot survive – often called “dead zones” – has increased from 12 in 1960 to 300 today. This includes the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, which covered an area roughly the size of New Jersey in 2008.
The report examined cases in which the agribusiness lobby used its political power to stand in the way of clean water. For example, agribusiness interests blocked a 2010 effort to restore Clean Water Act protections to all American waterways. Their efforts increase the likelihood that polluters will be able to contaminate intermittent waterways, isolated wetlands and sensitive headwaters streams with impunity. Because of jurisdictional uncertainties, about half of the wetlands and streams in Minnesota may no longer be protected under the Clean Water Act.
Agribusiness lobbyists also derailed federal legislation to restore the Chesapeake Bay in 2010. The bill would have required all polluters to do their share to restore the ecologically imperiled bay to health, while also providing billions of dollars in funds for bay cleanup. And these lobbyists backed legislation that would prevent the EPA from closing a long-standing loophole in its regulation of pesticide discharges to waterways – even though the regulation does not apply to the use of pesticides on crops.
“Minnesotans know that achieving our clean water goals will require everyone to do their part,” said Trevor Russell, Watershed Program Director for Friends of the Mississippi River – a citizen group working to address water pollution in Minnesota. “Agribusiness lobbying efforts continue to derail even the most basic accountability measures for polluters. These efforts are unfortunate and counterproductive.”
Agribusiness does not only exercise its power and influence in the Hill in D.C., but across the country, even in small communities. In 2003 in Dodge County Minnesota when a new large factory farm was proposed, local residents were up against big backers of the project like Cargill and Monsanto.
Brad Trom is one of the local residents who was involved, he said "As a rural Minnesotan, I've seen what corporate agriculture does to have their way, even at the local level. When citizens in my township organized to stop a huge factory farm, big ag tried to intimidate us and get us to back off. At one township meeting, they sent 200 people (only four from the township) to try to stop us, five of whom were from Monsanto alone. If they are doing that in Dodge County Minnesota, I can only imagine what they are doing in Washington, DC."
The agribusiness lobby had a recent victory in the U.S. House of Representatives. A funding bill that was voted on Feb 19th in the U.S. House included amendments restricting the EPA and other agencies from enforcing existing clean water laws and clean up efforts. Environment Minnesota reported on Minnesota’s congressional delegation’s votes on current efforts in Congress to roll back environmental protections. The group also urged elected officials to do more to encourage sustainable farming practices.
“Our basic environmental protections are on the chopping block in Washington right now,” added Chadwick.
“Representative Peterson recently took a stab against clean water by voting for an amendment offered by Representative Goodlatte that will allow polluters to continue dumping in the Chesapeake Bay by stopping new clean up plans from going into effect. While Rep. Peterson ultimately voted against final passage for the funding bill, we are disappointed that he supported the Goodlatte amendment and a number of other anti-environment amendments that were included in the bill passed by the House.”