Tracking the EPA

The Environmental Protection Agency, after being forced to drop a proposed reporting rule for large farms, went ahead and collected information on thousands of farms anyhow, and then released it to activist groups.

According to Pig Progress News, the National Pork Producers Council is concerned. The information collected and disseminated included home phone numbers and addresses, records on employees, and other proprietary information.

"The release of data containing personal and confidential information is extremely troubling; we feel betrayed," said NPPC President R.C. Hunt, a hog farmer from Wilson, N.C. "We are very concerned for farmers and with the ability of those opposed to modern livestock and poultry farms to manipulate that data to advance their extremist agenda."

In recent years the EPA has been anything but transparent. The head of the organization, Lisa Jackson, recently resigned, amid allegations that she was conducting business via emails using various aliases. One of these names was said to be Richard Windsor, so the situation was obviously not caused by a spelling mistake pounced upon by overzealous auto-correct.

According to Fox news, Republicans on the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology wrote to Jackson last week: "While we understand the need for a secondary account for management and communications purposes, your choice to use a false identify remains baffling."

Indeed, such activities speak of a culture of secrecy and even chicanery that are an embarrassment to the EPA and leaders who allow such goings on.

Hunt concluded, "What's ironic is that, in the name of transparency, EPA released information in secret and violated the privacy rights of farmers across the country."

Meanwhile, pollution and disease in China have certainly been in the news recently. Foot and mouth disease was confirmed in hogs in the Guangdong region and Tibet. Nearly 1,000 swine have been culled.

Perhaps coincidentally, more than 3,300 dead pigs were found floating in the Huangpu River, which flows through Shanghai. While sanitation workers strive to corral the corpses and dispose of them, concerns about drinking water mount.

In my humble opinion, both the U.S. and China would benefit immensely if we were to loan them our EPA. In recent months that nation has seen a 39-ton fertilizer spill from a factory in Handan, which affected drinking water for millions of people.

The air over Beijing is so polluted that activists are handing out clean air in a can. Smog has hospitalized children, grounded planes, and is so thick that the upper floors of buildings are hidden in it.

A map of air currents in the Pacific Ocean shows that air circulates from China toward the U.S. as well as in the opposite direction. In fact, scientific instruments set up on top of Oregon's Cascade Mountains found smog-type pollution at levels higher than in downtown Los Angeles and well above EPA limits. According to the Alicia Patterson Foundation, levels of contaminants such as mercury, ozone, dust and carbon flowed to the mountains from China's highly industrialized cities.

The article claims in fact that almost 10 percent of pollution in the U.S. flows here from China.

Ironically, a Seattle Times article from 2008 blamed mercury pollution of Washington's Hoh Lake wilderness area, also located in the Cascades, on American farming practices. If they had known then what we know now, maybe they wouldn't have been so quick to assign blame.

As the EPA lowers the standards for permissible pollutants in air over our nation, the numbers come ever closer to what is already blowing here from China. This means that limiting dust from spring planting isn't going to help much in the long run. Neither will Tier 4 emissions standards for diesel machinery here, no matter how stringent. (An area college teacher was once heard to quip that the air coming out of a modern tractor engine is cleaner than what goes in.)

Although cleaning up our home environment is an admirable goal, discussion with our favorite trading partner about some of its practices may be in order.

Thus it seems as if everyone would benefit, and mightily, from sharing the valuable services of the environmental watchdog arm of our government with the worst environmental pirates on the planet.

And in unrelated but fascinating construction news, have you seen the inflatable concrete structures that are being sold in Europe? The things are simply amazing, made out of material called concrete canvas. Although often used to help firm up unstable banks and line ditches, concrete canvas has been employed in the design of rapidly deployable hardened shelters that can be put up in a ridiculously short period of time by two untrained folks using only a truck, a water hose, and a small air compressor.

In a video that is making the rounds a huge building arrives on site in a blue plastic package smaller than a picnic table. Water is introduced to the package via the garden hose, then the plastic is cut away to reveal an ugly lump of greyish slabs. An air blower is attached and seemingly miraculously a large structure, looking not unlike a giant grub, rises from the ground.

The process is helped along a bit by a truck, which tows out one end to extend the building.

It comes complete with doors.

After 24 hours of drying time the structure is strong enough to withstand hammer blows, resistant to flame, sturdy enough to walk on, and designed to last at least 10 years. It is designed to be strong enough to be covered with sand or earth, proving excellent insulation, and is much more secure than other rapidly raised buildings. The plastic liners can be rendered sterile easily, allowing temporary surgical facilities to be contained within.

A bag weighing approximately 500 pounds inflates into a shelter with 1,172 square feet of floor space. Cost is estimated at $2,100 (2004 price estimate).

It would seem as if such buildings would serve very well in many natural disasters, being quick to construct, strong, and relatively inexpensive. Not to mention, really cool and fun to build.

Fultonville dairy farmer MARIANNE FRIERS

is a regular columnist. She blogs