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Polarizing comment

Del. Todd Gilbert's appearance last weekend before Farm Bureau Federation Young Farmers Expo was startling in its partisan tone. As the Daily reported, Gilbert, R-Woodstock, told the group the biggest problem facing agriculture is changing the outlook of urban legislators who blame farmers for all the problems in the Chesapeake Bay.

"They stand around at wine-and-cheese parties and complain about all these things and restoring the bay ... without any regard that agriculture produced the wine and cheese they are sipping and nibbling on," Gilbert was quoted as saying.

Our hunch is that the wine-and-cheese crowd, which in this case means urban environmental types in Washington and its suburbs, are well educated and perfectly aware of the sources of their wine and cheese. They are also probably aware that agriculture is just one of many sources of the pollution that afflicts not only the bay but also its tributaries, including the Shenandoah River.

Farmers are concerned about pending federal legislation that tightens enforcement of the Clean Water Act's tools for fighting urban, suburban and agricultural runoff, as well as recent visits by Environmental Protection Agency inspectors to several farms in Rockingham and Page counties due to poor control of manure near waterways. Gilbert and some agricultural officials portray this as the leading edge of overbearing federal interference in a rural way of life. "You will owe your existence to a bureaucrat in Washington," Gilbert told the young farmers.

While it's true that the Obama administration is doing more to enforce various laws governing bay pollution and farm runoff -- not hard when the Bush administration essentially did nothing -- it has also implemented tighter controls on sewage treatment plants and other sources as it tries to attain goals the states around the bay have been struggling to reach for decades.

Restoring rivers and the bay requires cooperation between farmers, suburban homeowners and government officials alike. To portray the cleanup as a battle between rural and urban interests is polarizing and counterproductive.


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