EPA vs. Amish Cows

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This week, a story in The New York Times points up an unlikely target for the Environmental Protection Agency: the Amish farmers of Pennsylvania's Lancaster County. Though you'd think these technology-shunning workers would boast a modest carbon footprint, the EPA has taken issue with the considerable quantities of manure produced by the farmers' cows, which ends up washing into the Chesapeake Bay, rendering it inhospitable to fish.

An outreach campaign is underway, but as the Times explains, it's slow going:

The challenge for the environmental agency is to steer the farmers toward new practices without stirring resentment that might cause a backlash. The so-called plain-sect families — Amish and Old Order Mennonites, descended from persecuted Anabaptists who fled Germany and Switzerland in the 1700s — are notoriously wary of outsiders and of the government in particular ... For now, the environmental agency’s strategy is to approach each farmer individually in collaboration with state and local conservation officials and suggest improvements like fences to prevent livestock from drifting toward streams, buffers that reduce runoff and pits to keep manure stored safely.

Besides the cultural tensions that inevitably arise, there are also certain logistical problems to work around. Many of the farmers don't have phones in their homes, and instead share a public phone that each person can only use at certain times of day. "I had one client who would call me at 5:15 every morning," one consultant told the Times. "That was his allotted time to use the phone, and that was the only way for us to talk."

Meanwhile, some onlookers are wondering if the EPA doesn't perhaps have bigger things to worry about. "Regulators in our $4 trillion-a-year federal government may not know how to inspect oil rigs or to protect our coasts from oil even with a 7-week advance notice," grouses Don Surber at the Charleston Daily Mail, "but man do they know manure."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.