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Opening Arguments

Carping about water

The surest way to keep Asian carp from gaining a foothold in the Great Lakes is to cut the link between Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River Basin, the navigational locks at Chicago. That would protect the $ 7 billion Great Lakes fishing industry from the carp invasion. But it would not please the barge operators who move millions of tons of commodities on the Chicago-area waterways each year. So the Obama administration has come up with a $78.5 million plan that nobody likes:

“It appears to be politically negotiated rather than scientifically based ... sort of like trying to cut the baby in half,” said Thom Cmar, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “It offers a lot of middle-ground alternatives with no discussion of why any of them would actually work.”

Shippers worry about a promised study that would examine closing more often a pair of navigational locks at Chicago, and the prospect that a long-term study could recommend severing the connection between the river and the lakes for good.

Environmentalists, meanwhile, fear the plan's reliance on strengthening an electric barrier designed to block the carp's advance — and other measures, such as stepping up efforts to find and kill fish that may have slipped through — is an expensive gamble that might not be enough to ward off an infestation.

The argument for greater local control is that local experts with local knowledge know what is best for their specific problems. But greater central control, in theory, is justified when problems cross jurisdictional lines or when solutions in one jurisdiction cause problems in another one. Only the central planner can look at competing interests and come up with the best solution for everyone. But as this case illustrates, trying to juggle those competeing interests can be paralyzing.

Steuben County, "the land of 101 lakes," recently tried to ban certain lawn fertilizers containing phosphorous because commissioners thought they worsened the algae blooms giving some of its bodies of water a greenish cast. But the Indiana State Chemist's Office overturned the ban because only it has the authority to regulate the storage and use of fertilizer in Indiana:

 State Chemist Robert Waltz asked the county to seek a waiver for its ban, then listened to the county's arguments during a November hearing.

[. . .]

In his decision, Waltz said his office accepted the science showing that fertilizers with phosphorous can cause algae blooms in waters. But he found that the county failed to demonstrate that "special circumstances" existed to support approving the waiver.

Waltz said Tuesday that Indiana law specifies that such a "special" situation must be met and the county did not demonstrate that its needs were different from any other county.

"I recognize the value of lakes, and in any county in Indiana we want to protect all of those, but I don't see that this warranted a special case," he said.

Counties have to have some kind of special situation other than wanting to keep their lakes clean? This seems like a case where central control is being exercised just because it can be. That creates the opportunity for skeptics and cynics to come up with ulterior movites, such as the environmentalist quoted who said the chemist's office is "closely linked to the fertilizer industry through Purdue's agricultural programs."


Bob G.
Fri, 02/12/2010 - 11:44am

...And we all know that the Purdue AG people HAVE to consult with the Penn State AG people, so that MUST explain WHY the late John Murtha HAD to have that airport built (that carried his name) which ONLY serves FIVE FLIGHTS per week.
(a real moneymaker, youbetcha)

They do it because they can.
Ulterior motives...indeed.


Sun, 02/14/2010 - 4:36pm

Are these carp any good to eat? If so, I think I see a solution that might make everyone happy.