Smear strategy adds to pollution


April 23, 1994|By TOM HORTON

TC Dear Delmarva Farmer:

I'm writing this column in response to your op ed piece on Earth Day by Peggy Reigle, founder of a property rights group, the Fairness to Land Owners Committee (FLOC).

Your publication, which targets the Chesapeake region's farm community, is a critical forum for bay issues, since farmers own or work a quarter of the bay's 41 million acre watershed. Their land use is both a significant source of water pollution and a key ingredient in any bay cleanup.

I see a growing sense of environmental responsibility in agriculture, and in your paper, and the beginnings of a vital dialogue with the environmentalists Ms. Reigle would have readers revile as the devil incarnate.

In the spirit of continuing progress, I hope you'll reprint the following:

Like the Grinch who stole Christmas, Peggy Reigle can be

counted on to emerge every Earth Day to undermine celebration of the coming of age, in 1970, of a national environmental movement.

It is a movement, she writes, overtaken by radicalism, promoting crises for the sake of maintaining big budgets and fat salaries for its leaders.

In attempting to regulate private land use, environmentalism tears at the very fabric of family and community, she says.

And, quoting Scripture (Romans 1:22-25), she hints darkly that a more ominous agenda underlies any movement that backs laws like the Endangered Species Act: "[They] changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshiped and served the creature more than the Creator. . . ."

Ms. Reigle is mightily offended by the record of nonprofit environmental groups in raising millions for their causes. Her distaste for financial success might seem curious to those who know she operates her "mom and pop" FLOC organization out of a 6,000-square-foot waterfront mansion on the Choptank River's LeCompte Bay.

The estate's grounds are lavish enough that she boasted, in a gushy "house beautiful" piece in the Salisbury Daily Times, that her husband had "to get us a golf cart so that in the evenings we can have cocktails down by the bay front."

Also, she and her husband, Charles Jowaiszas, are among the "little people" her FLOC claims to help in fighting restrictions on developing their land.

The "Reigle file" at the Army Corps of Engineers Baltimore district office details the couple's quarrels with regulators over building on and subdividing lands bought for investment.

If this mild hypocrisy was the worst thing about Ms. Reigle's op ed piece, it would scarcely be worth rebutting. Her personal wealth, like the funds raised by environmental groups, has nothing obvious to do with the justness of her cause.

Nor do I think, having watched her in action, that she would work any less for property rights if she owned half an acre, instead of nearly 150.

What most concerns me is her blatant smear of environmentalists as "earth worshipers," implying that those who adore nature are somehow out to subvert American values; ignoring the fact that love for any part of creation can and often does reflect love for a creator.

(The chapter of Romans she quotes, if you are foolish enough to apply it literally to modern environmentalism, goes on to say that such blasphemers "should die.")

Such rabble-rousing tactics are a stock in trade not only for Ms. Reigle and her FLOC (which claims a membership of 12,000) but also for a growing number of anti-environment groups across the country. That is doubly unfortunate, because it short-circuits much needed rational debate and discussion on the issues of land use and the environment.

Around the Chesapeake and elsewhere, there is universal recognition that, surely as water flows downhill, the ways we farm and forest and develop the land affect water quality. We are moving into a new and controversial arena, expanding our pollution focus from clearly defined public trusts, air and water, into the area of private property.

There is ample room for landowners and environmentalists (who may well be one and the same) to debate how we handle this; but to the extent that vague, murky "conspiracy" theories dominate, both sides will be the poorer. Such theories are always attractive, a quick way of making a complicated world explainable. It is easier to believe in a "hidden agenda" than to concede that people of good faith and character can disagree -- with equal conviction.

Those who resort to conspiracy theorizing often do so from a bankruptcy of factual counter-argument.

Ms. Reigle is a case in point. She frequently asks why the bay cleanup focuses on pollution from nutrients, while a far greater volume of sewage enters the bay daily. Her implication is that, because farmland produces large amounts of nutrients, this fits into some secret agenda of environmentalists to control all property.

In fact, sewage is a major focus of bay restoration, precisely because it, too, contains lots of nutrients.

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