John Messeder

Messeder

Most of us know them as yucky places that’ll suck your feet off if you go wading there. Lots of really neat creatures live there, though maybe it’s best to stay in the boat, or at least on the high, relatively dry, ground, when one goes exploring. Along with bullfrogs and, maybe, Ivory Billed woodpeckers, there exist, in some of the larger examples, rare turtles and alligators.

Unfortunately, most of only know them as home to the likes of Marie Laveau (who really lived in the Louisiana swamps) and Amos Moses (who lived only in the lyrics of a song by country singer Jerry Reed).

Swamps are nature’s wastewater treatment plants, and the only people who want to drain them are those who want to become wealthy from the results – including draining and filling the wetland, then selling the homes and other buildings, and then building the treatment plants to serve the humans who replace the swamp critters.

Human misunderstanding of the value of a swamp was clear when then-candidate Donald Trump promised to “Drain the Swamp.” We thought we knew what he meant. Turns out, the goal was simply to swap out the population of snakes.

A recent move to relocate workers of the U.S. Department of Agriculture to Kansas City is a case in point. The reason – and the immediacy – is unclear. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue has made plans to move more than 500 workers in two USDA scientific agencies to the midwestern region. Perdue has been quoted saying the new location will place the scientists closer to the farmers with whom they work.

I’ve lived in Pennsylvania a bit more than 20 years, but I’ve been under the impression agriculture is a major part of the state’s economy. I’m sure farmers from Maine to Florida will be happy to have clarified their efforts are of little import to the nation’s grocery cart.

Pardon me for thinking there is another reason for moving the workers away from Washington, D.C. – to put distance between them and policy-makers with whom our president and his carefully chosen minions disagree. In particular, it seems another step in a process to block discussion of climate change from the halls of federal officialdom.

Within days of the start of the Trump administration, mentions of climate change were removed from the websites of the Environmental Protection agency. Until recently, however, the public still could request documents and other information from the EPA. It was not an easy process, but in theory, anyone could ask for any information and the agency being asked was required to fork over the information or state why it would not.

But last month, the department of the Interior and EPA published new rules, allowing political appointees to withhold documents requested under FOIA. What’s more, the person denying the FOIA request need not give a reason beyond that there are no documents that may be released applicable to the request. Previously, if a document related to, say, national security, the requester would be informed and could go to court to argue for a more favorable decision.

Now, one is not told even whether documents exist – only that they will not be released.

Which has so far allowed USDA Secretary Perdue to decline showing any supporting studies justifying the sudden relocation of his agency’s staff.

Swamps are not bad places, but a wall is being built around this one to ensure we who are paying for it cannot learn what is being dumped behind it. The only thing we can know is the snakes are becoming bigger and scarier.

Readers may contact John Messeder at john@JohnMesseder.com.

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