Peter Leavitt: Different food for thought
March 31, 2012
This letter should be considered a rebuttal to David Moss' op-ed of March 29 ("A fictionalized account as food for thought"). I find it interesting that he can reduce his argument to money. That's the one point he and I agree on — it's about the money. But the fact that Moss and others are willing to turn a blind eye to the consequences that reach far beyond the borders of his fictional character’s property speaks volumes about their grasp of the larger picture.
Let's suppose for a minute that Moss' fictional rancher was being paid to dispose of spent motor oil, diesel and gasoline and more than 500 other known and unknown carcinogens into parts of creeks and the Yampa River that flow through his property. Would that be OK? After all, it's the rancher's property where the dumping is taking place, and he needs the money to subsidize his income and keep his family ranch viable. Does it matter what happens to the water downstream? And do we just take the people who are paying him to do the dumping at their word when they tell us we have been misinformed?
The main reason that we don't have all the facts is because the energy policies written in 2005 exempt industry from the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act. It effectively allows them to tell the general public — whether they own a ranch or a Chevy Volt — that they not only don't have to tell us what and how they do things, but they also can place the burden of proof on the landowners when they have problems with their water and their health. If their processes are so blameless, why aren't they tripping over themselves to do baseline and future water testing on a frequent basis?
I'm not sure if our neighbors here in the valley are generally aware of what really keeps a ranch going these days, so I'll shed a little light on it. It ain't cattle. More often than not, ranchers make their daily bread through leases and farm subsidies. Those leases include hunting leases. I have been told by some ranchers in this valley that if it weren't for the hunting, it would be tough to get by.
I again have been watching the documentary "Gasland." Although the filmmaker is a self-confessed son of hippies, his film spends most of its time showing people who look, dress, live and sound a lot more like Moss' fictional rancher and a lot less like Moss' fictional Volt owner. They are homeowners with families in Pennsylvania and ranchers and landowners here in Colorado and just over the border in Wyoming. What I watched were people frustrated with being lied to and dealing with health issues ranging from migraines to stomach ailments that all materialized shortly after the drilling began — people right here in Colorado whose household water source had become flammable.
Finally, just because somebody has lived here longer than others doesn't give them claim to genuine stewardship of the land. I am a direct descendant of John Locke. My family has lived in these United States long before there was a United States. Most of the ranchers and other pioneers here in Colorado came to this country long after the Bill of Rights was drafted.
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That being said, neither they nor I have any more right than anyone else to determine whether the air we breathe and the water we drink should be fit for us and our children. Indeed, we all have a say in that, and if we don't stand up to people willing to sacrifice our prosperity for a few measly dollars in the short-term, then we deserve the miserable fate we would condemn ourselves to. I'm not ready to accept that fate. Here's another fictional account for readers:
The rancher rode his truck out to check on his herd one morning. To his dismay, 15 more animals had given birth to dead calves, and 20 more were displaying the same symptoms as his cattle that died the previous fall. Their hair was falling out, and they were having trouble digesting the feed hay he had brought to the field the previous week. It also occurred to him that he hadn't seen as many of his barn cats that morning, and he wondered what was up. He stood there shaking his head. taking in the view of the oil well on the ridge above and wondering where he and his family would be without the lease money.