They didn’t stumble across evidence of little green men. What they found was almost as bizarre: a previously unknown form of bacteria that needs arsenic rather than phosphorus to survive.
For every other living creature–you, me, and the partridge in a pear tree–phosphorus is a building block of life. It’s also a vital ingredient for fertilizer. Without a supplement of phosphate, American farmers would have a hard time growing the crops that allow us to feed ourselves.
That’s why the assault of ideological environmentalists on the phosphate industry in my state of Florida seems as destructive as an alien attack from outer space. They’re trying to choke phosphate production with lawsuits. Their schemes imperil our nation’s food security as well as your pocketbook.
Florida is best known for its beaches and oranges, but it’s also a leader in phosphate production. About 70 percent of the phosphate that goes into the fertilizers and crop nutrition products used by American farmers comes from the Sunshine State where the phosphate deposits naturally occur. We need to maintain this reliable domestic source. For such a critical commodity, it simply makes sense to take advantage of the resources within our own borders.
Yet the Sierra Club and its brethren don’t seem to care. Earlier this year, they filed a lawsuit and found a sympathetic judge who slapped an injunction on a crop nutrition company’s attempt to expand its phosphate production.
The final results of this litigation remain to be seen. In the meantime, layoffs loom. If the activists win in court, it will only encourage them to issue more legal challenges. They will sue again and again, until they’ve killed off the domestic production of phosphate. That’s their goal, driven by an ideology that has little to do with the interests of the United States and its working citizens.
Phosphate mining employs about 4,000 people in the Tampa Bay region. If they can’t dig phosphate out of the ground, they’ll add to unemployment rolls that are already far too high. They aren’t the only ones who would feel the effects of a slowdown. Across the country, grocery-store bills would rise, though few people would understand the cause of the problem.
Phosphate prices already have risen by 31 percent since April, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Many experts think they’ll go even higher in the coming months. So right now, farmers are paying a premium for the fertilizer they plan to use next year. These costs ultimately will be passed on to consumers–and they’ll really skyrocket if radical environmentalists have their way.
Activists insist that phosphate mining hurts the environment. They make it sound as though miners rape the land, rendering it permanently unproductive. This is ridiculous. Phosphate miners don’t extract and abandon. They’re required by law to rehabilitate the land they mine. One company is planning to turn a 16,000-acre site into a resort complex with a hotel, conference center, and a pair of golf courses. This will be a permanent source of jobs for people in the area.
Many times, land is returned to agriculture. I’m a rancher, so I’m always looking for pasture. Reclaimed land is one of the best places to put cattle. It’s often superior to other types of land because a fresh layer of black soil covers it. I have personal experience with this practice–and believe me, I wouldn’t use this land if it wasn’t good enough for my herds.
But it’s more than good enough. The process of mining and refurbishing can leave the land beautiful and useful while providing a high quality habitat for future generations.
These companies understand their obligation. For them, land reclamation is an ordinary part of doing business–and an important part of sustainable food production. For environmental activists, an ordinary part of doing business apparently means putting other Americans out of business.
If they succeed, NASA will continue to look for signs of life–but it won’t find any in Florida’s phosphate industry.
Carol Keiser-Long owns and manages cattle feeding operations in Kansas, Nebraska and Western Illinois. Mrs. Keiser is a Truth About Trade & Technology board member. (www.truthabouttrade.org)