'Indiana Environment Revisited'


May 18, 2008

Anyone familiar with Bloomington knows that we operate on a different calendar here. In college communities like ours, summer arrives early, just about the time the redbuds bloom and tomato plants hit the soil in South-Central Indiana.

Consistent with that academic calendar, summer has arrived in Bloomington. And just a little more than a week into it, I can tell you that 2008 is going to be a good one.

For example, Alternative summer always means that a new group of aspiring young journalism students, eager to learn more about craft and community, join our cause. Already this year, three of my former students and I have begun reporting a project we're calling The Other Bloomington, which will be an in-depth, journalistic exploration of poverty in Bloomington.

We're launching the project in this issue with "Hunger spikes in Bloomington" by Jaclyn Baker and "Food bank reaches warehouse deals" by Audree Notoras, and we have a still-evolving, ambitious agenda of stories and angles to pursue over the summer.


Links to "The Other Bloomington"


May 3, 2008

As we delve into combined sewer overflows or CSOs, (having everything to do again with poop, only now, from we humans) many of you are probably thinking, "Here we go again." I know I did.

But I've learned through the "Indiana Environment Revisited" project that one of the major environmental threats we're up against is the export of human and animal waste. And while other looming threats like the pending coal plant in Edwardsport or the construction of I-69 have nothing to do with what comes from our bodies, one major connection tying these and many environmental movements together is water.

The mercury from coal plants, the destruction of Indiana's wetlands by I-69 and the contaminants from CAFOs and CSOs all threaten our water, the most important natural resource on Earth.

As this is our only "Indiana Environment Revisited" piece this issue, it looks like it's up to me, for the moment, to explain the threat of CSOs and why anyone should care, as I am learning them from the Improving Kids' Environments (IKE) Website.



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April 20, 2008

When we decided to launch the "Indiana Environment Revisited" (IER) project, I knew it would be an emotional journey. As an Indiana-based environmental journalist for the past 27 years, I'm intimately familiar with the anger and frustration that comes from being victimized by our state's extreme brand of environmental neglect.

I expected to encounter a long list of fevered citizens, like Rex Jones from Henry County, who would tell us, "My honest opinion of IDEM? ... They are a big joke." I mean, I couldn't disagree with him or any of the other rural Hoosiers we've interviewed in the Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) series, all of whom echoed Jones's sentiment.

But because I spent four years working inside IDEM with the Media and Communications Services team, getting to know and, on more than a few occasions, befriending the men and women who are legislatively charged with protecting Indiana citizens from air, water and land pollution, I knew I was venturing onto sensitive new terrain.


IDEM on CAFO inspections



April 6, 2008

The first CAFO supporter is in.

The e-mail came on a Monday. No name was attached, just an address and the initials DP. "We all love our technology," DP wrote, "TV's, Computers, I-pod's. I don't believe consumers will pay for a 1975 production system."

I'd like to start by saying I don't own an iPod.

All joking aside, although I really don't own an iPod, I'd like to make it clearer where I stand on CAFOs, considering I knew little about them until about a month-and-a-half ago. Based on the information I've learned in that time, the call here is not to eradicate factory farms, as CAFO’s are also called, though in a perfect world, we'd give farming back to the farmers.



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April 6, 2008

Add Coxton citizen Barbara Artinian to the list of rural Hoosiers who would bust a gut at 1999 claims by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) that one of the agency's priorities is to "target children's health."

IDEM's mantra du jour in early 1999 was "protecting children from environmental threats." It had a "children's environmental health coordinator." One of the state's most powerful industrial lobbyists once characterized IDEM Commissioner John Hamilton's emphasis on it as "playing the kid card."


Third in a series

The lead story in the January-February edition of IDEM's newspaper, the Indiana Environment & Materials Exchange, began: "Parents of the estimated 100,000 children who attend child-care facilities in Indiana will be better prepared to protect their children from environmental threats under a new initiative announced in December by IDEM and first lady Judy O'Bannon."


Links to "Indiana Environment Revisited - CAFOs"
Video Conversations with Barbara Sha Cox, Photo Album, Amber's blog

Indiana Environment Revisited

March 23, 2008

Eric Stickdorn routinely employs proper medical terminology when he describes the human body's reactions to life near a confined animal feeding operation (CAFO), a subject he knows intimately.

Wikipedia, for example, defines "olfactory fatigue" as "the temporary, normal inability to distinguish a particular odor after a prolonged exposure to that airborne compound." That's how Stickdorn explains the fact that, when his mouth burns from ground-level air pollution from the dairy CAFO next to his Wayne County farm, he can't even smell the manure gases.


Second in a series

"Unfortunately, I've become accustomed to that sensation," Stickdorn said, not explaining whether he meant "olfactory fatigue" or "burning mouth syndrome."

But the health impacts from constantly inhaling the gaseous excretions of hundreds, or thousands, or tens of thousands of animals, like many rural Hoosiers do, are so overwhelming that Stickdorn sometimes has to invent terms.


Links to "Indiana Environment Revisited - CAFOs"
Video Conversations with Barbara Sha Cox, Photo Album, Amber's blog


March 23, 2008

The e-mails are pouring into my inbox. "Your articles and videos are excellent," "thank you for letting people know what is going on," I read. It's great to revel in the support from people who understand just what kind of wreckless establishment CAFOs are. And while the support is welcomed, I wonder where the other side is.

If CAFOs are allowed to be built without setbacks and to operate with effectively no regulation, there must be support for it. And I expected, somewhat, to hear from those people.



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If the feedback we've received is an accurate reflection of how people statewide or nationwide feel about CAFOs, citizens want permits for CAFOs to be granted under the strictest of conditions and run with the highest standards of health and safety. Otherwise, Indiana's public-private CAFO alliance is a complete and deviant local assault.

One of two things are happening. Either CAFO supporters aren't threatened enough to defend their position or the majority of people in both rural and urban Indiana don't know about the problem. Of those who do, the sentiments are the same -- they are thrilled to have a media entity care.

Indiana Environment Revisited

March 9, 2008

Editor's note: This is the first installment of Amber Kerezman's blog about her journey into one of the planet's darkest corners -- Indiana's environment. In the coming weeks, she will chronicle her experiences on the Alernative's "Indiana Environment Revisited" project with first-person commentaries. An archive will be maintained at Amber's blog.

***

An invasion, to me, has always meant the unwavering presence of an unwelcome guest, a permanent infringement. I realized after Alternative editor Steve Higgs and I took our first "Indiana Environment Revisited" day trip to Randolph and Henry counties, CAFOs, at least by my definition, are that invasion. We met people who felt the violation and literal stink of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations.

Indiana Environment Revisited

March 9, 2008

Randolph County farmer Allen Hutchison hasn't laughed as much as he should have since the concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) began invading his space four years ago. But the headlines in a January-February 1999 edition of the Indiana Environment & Materials Exchange would no doubt elicit a respectable snort or two.


First in a series

The Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) newspaper, which Indianapolis Star columnist Ruth Holladay once dubbed the agency's propaganda "organ," headlined a story about confined feeding operations: "Keeping Indiana's waters clean: IDEM proposes rules to eliminate contamination from confined feeding."

In 1999, IDEM recognized only one category of confined feeding operation (CFOs), defined as, "Facilities where more than 600 hogs or sheep, 300 cattle or 30,000 fowl are fed in pens, sheds or buildings." Since then, the new category CAFOs has been added to the regulatory landscape.

Standing outside his home on a blustery-cold March afternoon, Hutchison rotates 360 degrees, his right arm a pointer, counting off the number of cows and hogs populating CAFOs around his home and farm -- 1,650 cows over there, 13,000 hogs there, 13,000 cattle, 12,000 hogs, 16,000 hogs, another 13,000.

"Within a five-mile circle of this house, there's 75,000 hogs," he said.


Links to "Indiana Environment Revisited - CAFOs"
Video Conversations with Barbara Sha Cox, Photo Album, Amber's blog


March 2, 2008

Anyone who has ever written for me knows that I am not a fan of first-person writing. I tell my reporting students that their keyboards should deliver electric shocks whenever they type shift-i-space. Journalists should use "I" only when it's the optimal voice for telling their stories.

So, because the "Indiana Environment Revisited" project I am introducing here is a personal journey back to my enviro-journalistic roots, the optimal voice is first. Expect an occasional "I" in these pages in the months leading up to the 2008 gubernatorial election.

The journey is not metaphoric. The series' name is derived from a newspaper I published while working for the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) called Indiana Environment, a.k.a. IE. From 1996-2000, I traveled Indiana -- from East Chicago to Spencer County and Tell City to Fort Wayne -- peering into, and telling IDEM's side of, the disaster that is Indiana's environment.

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