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What drives our energy priorities?

By Amalie Lipstreu • Apr 26, 2019 at 9:09 AM

"Every day is Earth Day for a farmer," the saying goes. But this Earth Day, as farmers go about the business of sowing seeds in the cool spring earth and moving their layer chicks from the brooder onto fresh pasture, they face a litany of challenges because some of our public officials lack a similar Earth Day ethic.

Throughout Ohio, farmers and rural communities are being harmed by fracking, coal mining, pipelines and other energy infrastructure projects that scar, pollute and fragment the land.

In the meantime, the policymakers who should safeguard the health and well-being of Ohio citizens appear silent to their concerns.

One of the biggest challenges beginning farmers face is access to affordable farmland, forcing these young entrepreneurs to locate far away from development pressure and to more affordable rural counties. These places are most likely to be forced to deal with the negative effects of energy projects and the risk of explosions, spills and willful violations resulting in water, soil and air pollution.

Simply put, the livelihoods of a growing cadre of sustainable farmers depend on a clean environment and biodiverse ecosystems to grow nutritious food and healthy animals. These energy projects work at cross-purposes with these farmers, whose practices help sequester carbon, protect water quality, promote public health and contribute to the social and economic viability of the region.

A current example is a proposed 545-acre coal mine in the Perry State Forest. Farmers and the community are speaking with a strong and unified voice against this unwelcome project by sending more than 1,000 comments to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources opposing the project. Hundreds of citizens attended agency meetings and contacted their elected officials asking the state to protect the forest and nearby farmland.

Despite this strong and unprecedented response, ODNR is poised to issue its mining permit, claiming they are unable to consider the social and economic impacts, the project's troubled financial prospects and other critical issues.

If Perry County residents' outcry can go ignored, then farmers and Ohioans elsewhere stand little chance of playing a meaningful role in determining what happens in their communities.

Aside from the local impacts projects such as these have, we would be wise to consider how fossil fuels contribute to a changing climate, which is already beginning to stress farmers through altered rainfall and temperature patterns.

Without addressing this issue, farmers can expect higher temperatures, more-frequent drought, reduced crop and livestock yields, increased pest and weed pressure, and other extreme weather impacting rural livelihoods, sustainable food security and price stability.

The Perry Forest project is emblematic of this dying dirty energy industry, which threatens our food system and commits us to this bleak future.

Instead of gambling our future and farmland on a collapsing industry, the DeWine administration and state legislators have an opportunity this Earth Day to protect the livelihoods of farmers that steward our land, heed the voice of local communities, and invest in clean energy solutions that contribute to strong local and regional economies.

We call on our public officials to listen to the unified voice of the rural residents of Perry County; give ODNR authority to consider, impose additional conditions and deny permits based on the financial risk of projects and their impacts on residents, and provide a meaningful role for farmers and the public to play in energy project decisions that affect them and generations to come.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Amalie Lipstreu is policy director of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association in Columbus.

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©2019 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)

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