Vin Suprynowicz

The Libertarian

Vin Suprynowicz

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In Philippe de Broca’s 1966 comedy “King of Hearts,” set during the First World War, a British private is sent into a French village in search of an armed bomb supposedly left behind by retreating German forces.

The villagers he encounters seem rather odd. It turns out the town has been completely abandoned except for the denizens of the local insane asylum, who have emerged to take over the roles of the missing townsfolk.

Rational observers of America’s “environmental” policies in recent decades sometimes get the same sneaking suspicion that a gang of well-meaning lunatics has been put in charge.

In a report in The Washington Post last week, for instance, David A. Fahrenthold reveals that testing by the Environmental Protection Agency has grown sophisticated enough to determine not just how much E. coli and other fecal coliform bacteria is showing up in America’s rivers and streams, but precisely whose waste it’s coming from.

In the Washington area, the Post reports, more than two dozen streams, including the Potomac river, have been put on the federal “impaired waters” list, meaning they do not meet ideal conditions for swimming.

“So who -- or what -- is responsible for the contamination?” the Post asks. “The answer has become much clearer in the past five or so years, because of high-tech tests ... that pinpoint from which animal a particular sample of bacteria came. ...”

One recent study by a Virginia Tech team found that humans are responsible for 24 percent of the bacteria in the Anacostia River and 16 percent of the Potomac’s, whether the source is a broken septic tank or the District of Columbia’s large sewage overflows during heavy rains. Domestic livestock were responsible for 10 percent of the Potomac’s bacteria.

But in the Potomac and the Anacostia, the government has learned, more than half of the bacteria in the streams comes from ... wild animals.

And guess what? As manmade pollution is cleaned up, the percentage of the contaminants coming from deer and chipmunks ... goes up!

“They’re pooping in the water,” reveals Chuck Frederickson, an environmentalist identified by the Post as “keeper of the James River” in Virginia. “Do we want less bacteria in the water, or do we want geese around?”

To meet federal “clean water” standards on the Willis River in central Virginia, it turns out, the amount of waste being washed into tributaries after being deposited in the woods by deer, geese, muskrat and raccoons would “need to be reduced by 83 percent.”

And unless a whole lot of volunteers can be found to wander the woods, keeping all those critters in fresh diapers, that means the latest federal standards probably can’t be reached without reducing the wild animal population, itself ... by 83 percent.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last month relaxed its rules to make it easier to kill geese for public-health reasons,” the Post reports, “but no Washington-area officials have plans to kill or remove wildlife on a scale large enough to make a difference.”

Let the hand-wringing now begin ...

“The strange proposition that nature is apparently polluting itself has created a serious conundrum for government officials charged with cleaning up the rivers,” reports Mr. Fahrenthold, apparently with a straight face. “Officials say it would be nearly impossible, and wildly unpopular, to kill or relocate enough animals to make a dent in even that segment of the pollution.

“That leaves scientists and environmentalists struggling with a more fundamental question: How clean should we expect nature to be? In certain cases, they say, the water standards themselves might be flawed, if they appear to forbid something as natural as wild animals leaving their dung in the woods.”

Gee. Do you think?

The EPA and its state auxiliaries have progressively adopted more and more stringent clean-up standards -- pretty much in step with the ever tinier quantity of impurities their equipment is able to measure -- not based on any sensible determination of how “clean” the air and water have to be to prevent epidemics and other serious health hazards, but in a bizarre drive toward “zero tolerance” (and, cynics might add, to keep themselves in business.)

Problem is, the only way to make the creeks and rivers “totally clean” is to eradicate all animal life.

As Robert Boone, president of the Anacostia Watershed Society, points out, “If you were here when Captain John Smith rode up the Anacostia River (in 1607), and you tested the water, it would probably have a good bit of coliform in it.”

Wait till they find out the Powhatan and the Mohican had no sewage treatment plants.

However reluctantly, the water watchers seem ready to concur.

“The EPA and state agencies seem to be coming to a similar conclusion,” the Post reports. “In interviews and in official documents, they say they’re considering holding some streams to different standards. ... The states would plan to reduce bacteria from human sources as much as possible and then reassess to see whether some level of bacteria from wildlife is natural.”

Does that say, “... to see whether some level of bacteria from wildlife is natural”?

Stay calm, now. We’re just going to lead you fellows back to the institution, where you can get some bed rest and some skilled medical attention. ...

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