Sunday, June 17, 2018

The source of disenfranchisement for rural Americans

Slate's Issac Chotiner recently interviewed Eliza Griswold on her new book, Amity and Prosperity: One Family and the Fracturing of America (Macmillan, 2018). In the interview (and presumably the book) Griswold displays a strong historical sensibility about the legal-environmental roots of some of America's (and hence the world's) current predicament. An excerpt:
Isaac Chotiner: What is it that is “fracturing” America?
Eliza Griswold: These days we are hearing so much about this rural/urban divide. What does that really mean? What is the source of disenfranchisement for rural Americans? Much of it stems from natural resources. Rural Americans have paid for the energy appetites of urban Americans for more than a century.
I think a lot people in urban America would hear that and say, “Well, the people who are voting for candidates who are less interested in environmental protections are coming from rural America, and the people who are voting the opposite way are coming from urban America.” What do you say to that?
The urban American understanding of how regulation plays out on the ground in rural America is woefully inadequate. First of all, we don’t understand how for more than a century in many places in Appalachia, rural Americans have had their land ruined, as well as their health and their communities, in a search for the natural resources that feed urban Americans.
On top of that, if you talk to farmers, if you talk to Appalachian farmers … First of all, none of them simply farm, they have two jobs. Often that second job has to do with resources. They are either coal miners or former steelworkers. But how regulation plays out in their life on a daily basis has to do with farming, and farm regulation has driven many small farms out of business.
So, there’s this huge double standard where, if you talk to a pork farmer in Amity, he’s going to tell you that he has to pay $100 every time the vet comes out to take his shots. And that he has to fence his stream and the cows can’t go into the water. And he can’t drive his tractor across the stream either. Yet for more than a century, extractive industry has been able to come in and do whatever it wants to do. Until finally, here’s oil and gas, here are frackers who are actually paying money for mineral leases. Who are urban Americans to come in and wag a finger and say, “You don’t have the right to make any money off your land.” They don’t even understand how regulation practically works on the ground.

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