This is my third letter to you, my sister state. Oh, I know you don’t think of California as your sister state, but in the now-forgotten context of a United States of America, we are all sister (and brother?) states, right? Being our bellwether election state, Dear Ohio, you have a special importance for us all.
I was reading about the Lowmillers the other day. You probably know of them. They run a dairy farm their granddaddy and daddy started in 1942 in Columbiana County, Ohio. They’re very proud of it, and they’ve won awards for their farming excellence. But one day when one of the Lowmillers was hunting rabbit on his land with his cousin, they noticed the hunting dogs never stopped once to drink from the stream. And the Lowmiller boy said he got to thinking, “I kinda know what’s going into that stream.” It was runoff from manure produced by the dairy herd.
Now I know, Dear Ohio, you’re a big believer in everybody standing on their own two feet. None of this namby-pamby, everybody-owes-me-a-living attitude I’ve heard you attribute to many Californians. But the Lowmillers couldn’t afford to make the structural changes necessary to stop the runoff from polluting their stream. That stream fed into another and another, eventually feeding into the Ohio River, then the Mississippi River and finally into the Gulf of Mexico. The Lowmillers’ dog knew enough to stay away from the polluted water, but the humans who relied on water tables, fish, and crops probably weren’t able to avoid the taint of all the runoff from streams like the one on the Lowmiller farm.
The problem the Lowmillers had was one we all have, what with the world getting so small as we count past seven billion people. The Lowmillers couldn’t afford to pay to solve their pollution problem by themselves. They needed help. Fortunately for them, the help they sought was not called “entitlements” or “big government.”
So the Lowmillers did the unthinkable. They applied for help from a pilot program started by the American Farmland Trust, the Electric Power Research Institute, state and federal government, and other partners. Through this program, water quality credits are sold to industry from farms in the watershed area. The funding is used to help farmers like the Lowmillers pay for changes that reduce pollution runoff. You might call it “cooperative funding.”
The truth is, Dear Ohio, that none of us can singlehandedly afford to make every investment necessary to produce all the positive outcomes we need to lead successful lives as part of a healthy nation. Not even the very rich can do this alone.
For example, most rich folks couldn’t pay for all the hospitals, protective gear and courageous health care providers that stopped the Ebola epidemic. Just like the rest of us, rich Americans needed the federal government to fund the Center for Disease Control and other critical agencies that worked with international partners to stop the deadly disease that didn’t seem to care how much money you had in your offshore accounts. We needed the CDC, and we were grateful for it. But today, it’s being tarnished with the broad brush of “big government” or “inefficient bureaucracy,” and it’s set for cutbacks under the new budget.
Sometimes it’s wise to provide help for others; it protects the public good. It guards against the loss of things that would affect all of us — like farmland, wilderness, clean water, breathable air, well-nourished kids, housed families, cared-for elderly, and healthy communities.
If you called the help the Lowmillers got “entitlements” or “big government,” I bet those independent farmers never would have applied. And thirsty dogs would have been the least of their worries and those of everyone else who lived downstream.
I’ll write soon. As my sister state, you’re always on my mind.