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Virginia Farm Bureau Federation

Virginia Farm Bureau Federation
November 27, 1995
Becky Norton Dunlop

It gives me great pleasure to be with you today.

It has been twenty-two months since Governor Allen appointed me to serve as Virginia’s Secretary of Natural Resources. During this time, one of my greatest satisfactions is to have become familiar with the important contributions that Virginia’s farmers and agribusiness people make to the economy and to the quality of life in the Commonwealth.

As you know, I am from Arlington County, which is among the most urbanized jurisdictions in the world. Urban people truly seem to believe that food originates in grocery stores. Try as they might, it is very difficult for people in cities and suburbs to comprehend the extensive planning, organization, cooperation, logistics, investment, risk -and just plain hard work- it takes to get the abundance of food we enjoy to those grocery stores.

I have a little bit of an advantage over most city slickers, however.

My husband, George, has worked all his adult life as part of the agribusiness sector: first, with about 18 years in government, including his time as Chief of Staff of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry, and as Assistant Secretary of Agriculture for President Reagan. Then, we put in almost four years in the fruit and vegetable business together during the time he was president of the United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association. Now, he is an agribusiness investment consultant and international commodities trader.

Needless to say, quite a bit of dinner table discussion in the Dunlop household over the years has involved your industry. We care deeply about your success, and we have an appreciation for the importance of what you accomplish, as well as an understanding of the frustrations and complications you face in making your businesses successful.

Governor Allen and I believe that it is vitally important to all of the people of the Commonwealth that Virginia’s farmers and others involved in our food and agricultural industry have every possible opportunity for your ventures to be successful.

No one can guarantee you success. It always has proven to be a great mistake when government tries to do that. But, it is our conviction that all of us must constantly strive together to assure that your opportunities for success are not unnecessarily diminished by wrongheaded government policies and unnecessary regulation and control.

The new Congress in Washington seems to be finally making headway in changing more than 50-years of intensive intervention into the agricultural economy. And this is a good thing for the environment because much of that federal intervention has induced America’s farmers to do everything possible to maximize yields -even at the expense of good economics, sound agricultural practices, the vitality of farm communities, and the quality of the environment.

Because Virginia has always been a grain deficit state, the federal farm bills have always operated rather perversely on our farmers anyway. Now that the “Freedom to Farm Act” appears near enactment, I believe we will see a renewed strength in the agricultural economy of Virginia.

Of course, this is particularly important as it pertains to the environment and to the policies and agencies of Virginia government, which are my particular responsibility in the Natural Resources Secretariat.

After all, it is the natural resources of air, water, soil, plant and wildlife which make up the physical environment that farmers and agribusiness people use to create wealth and improve the quality of life for our people.

Whenever I have the opportunity, I make it a point to share with my audiences the five principles that I use as the basis for providing leadership to the agencies in my Natural Resources Secretariat.

These principles are quite straightforward.

Principle One : People are Virginia’s most important natural resource.

Principle Two : Personnel is policy. It is important that we encourage our employees and volunteers to have a heart for service to the people of the Commonwealth.

Principle Three : Natural resources - the air, water, soil, and all the rest- are dynamic and resilient and can be improved in quantity and quality with mankind’s art and science, and through responsible stewardship.

Principle Four : An improving environment is dependent upon an improving economy.

Principle Five : Excessive and wrongheaded government regulation is injurious to improving the quality of the environment.

Today, I would like to focus with you on two of these guiding principles. It is my hope that in doing so, we might be better prepared to deal with the challenges your industry faces from people who do not work with natural resources every day.

First, permit me to share a few thoughts about the importance of people -the enormous value of each individual, if you will.

Everywhere I go, Virginians tell me how much they appreciate knowing that Governor Allen and I regard Virginia’s people as her greatest and most precious natural resource.

Indeed, one of the strengths of the American experience is our reliance upon the ultimate wisdom of the people to make the right choices in matters of great importance. This confidence in the people is what the American experiment in government is all about.

Virginians have never failed to demonstrate themselves worthy of the liberty we enjoy because we have always owned up to our responsibilities through a tradition of voluntary stewardship and a vigorous defense of our constitutional liberty.

Virginia’s legacy to the history of the world is the clear and practical articulation of liberty as found in the U.S. Constitution. The genius of the American experiment is that our Constitution is a charter of government, which has as its central proposition that the people must be protected from government.

As George Washington said in his Farewell Address, “Government is like fire. It can be a helpful servant or a fearful master.”

America’s federated republic divides power of government in such a way as to keep our government limited and to keep us the freest people in the history of the world.

Of course, with freedom and liberty comes personal and individual responsibility.

Indeed, a personal sense of volunteerism and responsible stewardship have always been watchwords in America’s farming communities. It is impossible to overstate the importance of inculcating in the hearts and minds of all of our people a genuine commitment to being good stewards of our natural resources, and all the other blessings with which we have been endowed.

Those of us who have dedicated so much of our personal interests and professional careers to improving the quality and condition of the environment sometimes overlook this important truth.

After all, improving the quality of life in the world is what improving the environment is all about.

For this reason, I believe all people of good will should be mindful to redress all kinds of pollution whenever it impacts adversely and injuriously upon our natural resources and diminishes the quality of life for Virginians.

And, permit me to say this: There is no more pernicious pollution injurious to people and to the quality of life than the cultural pollution that plagues our land today.

Virginia’s farm families are not immune to cultural pollution, despite their value system that cherishes the virtues of honest, hard work, self-reliance, strong families and individual responsibility.

People who love natural resources and who truly care about the environment are increasingly alarmed that thirty years of moral relativism, as an increasingly dominant trend in our culture, has resulted in a degradation of ethics and virtue.

This relativism has resulted in pollution of our cultural environment in ways that are increasingly recognized as harmful to innocent people and devastating to the quality of life of people in Virginia and across this great land.

We must be dedicated in helping people of good will learn how to be good environmental stewards and how to reduce pollution from everyday economic activity. And, we are determined to bring to the bar of justice those perverse few who are “bad actors,” intentionally and wantonly degrading our natural resources.

So too should people who claim to be environmentalists always be among those standing foursquare for virtue against cultural polluters.

Now, my purpose in raising this subject in this context is this: Is it not logical and reasonable to assume that a culture that seeks to protect its children and its people from vile and harmful cultural pollution is also a culture that will protect the other elements of our natural resources?

Conversely, that culture which is negligent to promote good stewardship of truth, virtue and morality of its people, will also be a culture that is negligent to promote good stewardship for all other natural resources.

So, I challenge each Virginian who loves natural resources and who cares about our environment to insist that the purveyors of cultural pollution be treated with the same disdain and contempt as those who perversely injure the quality of life in Virginia by intentionally polluting our air, rivers, streams, bays and wildlife.

In this way, our stewardship principles will have positive and meaningful impact on the quality of life we seek to enjoy.

A second principle I want to share with you today relates directly to the day-to-day tasks involved with producing food and fiber, arranging for its marketing, and otherwise running complicated businesses always full of many surprises.

Amongst all these activities it is easy to lose sight of the fact that air and soil and water are resources that farmers deploy to create wealth where it did not exist before.

The fact is: farmers deploy these resources to take advantage of one free input that is the foundation of all subsequent wealth creation in the entire economy. And, I can assure you that I am not talking about grocery stores!

This one free resource does not have to be cultivated, mined or manufactured. It cannot be owned, franchised, bought or sold. It is, in a sense, entirely renewable and utterly abundant -and it shines forth anew each and every day.

Of course, I’m talking about sunlight!

Yes, in many ways we can understand the business of farming and agriculture as elements in what might be more accurately called the “sunlight conversion business.”

Think about it! Through the miracle of photosynthesis, all the wealth the world enjoys involves farmers’ beginning the cycle when you convert sunlight to food through your hard work and ingenuity.

As we, and people who are not farmers, come to understand this important aspect about farming, then we begin to comprehend the incredible connection we have to God’s great Creation. Then we begin to understand that none of the wealth and quality of life we enjoy exists entirely of our own accord. This helps us understand the role each of us has to be responsible stewards of the resources we enjoy.

And, we begin to understand then, that mankind’s application of his art and science to natural resources is essential to our very existence. That is, when the skills and knowledge of our civilization are applied to the resources that make up our environment, we have the basis of all that we enjoy in life itself.

That mankind can, indeed, must, use his art and science in relation to the natural resources that make up the environment, may be the most important environmental principle when it comes to government and public policy.

But, alas, this is a principle that is oftentimes conveniently forgotten, even deliberately ignored, and often treated with great hostility. But, nevertheless, it is the truth.

Why is there indifference and hostility to this truth?

My friends, hostility to truth comes from wrong-headedness, pure and simple.

Many people who resent farmers, or foresters, or other people, who use natural resources to create wealth, feel that way because they have wrongheaded ideas about the very nature of the resources that make up our natural environment.

Much of the environmental law and regulation on the books in America today has as its rationale a view of the nature and character of the air, water, soil, flora and fauna that misunderstands these resources to be static, finite, and constantly diminishing in quality because of mankind’s relentless and thoughtless exploitation.

It is no wonder that we have so many laws and regulations.

If this understanding about the resources were true, what recourse, indeed, would there be for well-intended people, but to seek to restrict use of natural resources to diminish mankind’s adverse impact on that which is unchanging, quite limited, and always, by definition, being diminished and are certain to one day run out?

However, this is quite simply, unnecessary. The natural resources that make up the environment are not static, finite and diminishing. To think that they are is simply mistaken and wrongheaded.

The truth is this. All of our science and empirical evidence demonstrates that the natural resources which make up our environment have these characteristics: they are dynamic, resilient, and can be improved in quality and quantity when mankind employs his art and science, as well as when people are serious about the responsibilities of good stewardship and sound conservation management.

It is vital that all Americans understand two salient truths: (1) if we are to enjoy the benefits of life itself, mankind can and must employ his art and science to create wealth where it did not exist before, and (2) resources themselves are inherently dynamic, resilient, and capable of being improved in quality and quantity. These truths are the foundations of the new environmental paradigm.

Without a thoughtful understanding of these two truths, Americans will be adrift in a confusion about how to have effective and sensible environmental policies from their federal, state and local governments.

I submit to you today that Americans are now adrift in such confusion, and have been for the better part of the past quarter-century. The prospects for the success of your business in the months and years ahead -indeed, the prospects for the success of our civilization itself- ­depend upon our people returning to a correct and true understanding of the nature of natural resources.

Farmers know these truths better than most. You can look about each day to see that the elements of the air, water and soil are dynamic and constantly changing.

You can see that they are resilient. You can see that despite the punishments of weather, and even thoughtless abuse from people, natural resources can recover and be improved.

You can see this whenever you employ your artisanship, your skills, your knowledge, or just your plain effort in conjunction with sound principles of good stewardship. This is true for resources you use every day, and it is true for other natural resources as well.

Everywhere we choose to look we find confirmation of the enormous progress we have made in improving the environment, despite many challenges that remain. Let’s just draw a few threads from the fabric:

  • Today in America and in Virginia we have more forests in better quality and condition than any time in this century, and probably since the first settlement of the country.
  • We have improved and enhanced big game populations and continue to do so. These include deer, bear, and wild turkey.
  • The number of ducks has increased by 30% compared to two years ago -- thanks mostly to two wet years.
  • More of our rivers and streams meet the technical standard of “fishable and swimmable” than ever before: 97% of Virginia’s rivers and streams meet these standards.
  • The quality of our air is improving so much so that just last month the EPA removed requirements that Virginians must purchase special “oxygenated” gasoline during winter months.
  • We have more soil and water conservation applications installed and in operation than at any time in history.

These kinds of measurable improvements in the quality of our environment have taken place in the midst of unprecedented economic growth and vitality in our economy. Indeed, despite our many shortcomings, and the many challenges that still lay before us, Americans have created more wealth and have accomplished more to improve the environment than any people anywhere in this world.

In short, these improvements have taken place precisely because we have had economic growth and progress, not despite it.

When the people at large understand that natural resources are dynamic, resilient and can be improved by sound management and good stewardship, then they will encourage their lawmakers to provide for effective environmental law and regulations to focus on helping people who use natural resources to better employ science and practical site and situation specific management practices to improve the environment.

One core idea of the environmental elitists and extremists -the people with the wrongheaded misunderstandings about the inherent nature of the resources themselves- is that when it comes to environmental law and regulation “one size fits all.” This is pernicious nonsense. The fact is, the circumstances of any particular problem or challenge we face in environmental quality are always site and situation specific. Specific problems always require a specific set of management practices to address effectively.

I see a day when we can turn the corner in this way. I see the day when we can restore to government the role of helpful servant, rather than the role of fearful master to which it has become so accustomed in the past quarter-century.

This is certainly the commitment that Governor Allen and I have, and I hope this can be part of our legacy as much as it was part of the legacy that George Washington handed down to Virginians and to Americans.

This day will dawn when the untruth and wrong-headedness which regards the nature of the resources as static, finite, and diminishing is replaced by the truth about the very dynamic and resilient nature of the resources.

This truth must guide the new paradigm that the people and the government will use to bring about even greater improvements in the quality of our environment.

Then the remaining challenges we face will be overcome and we can expand our capacity for even greater accomplishments in environmental quality. The progress we have already made will seem like a mere prologue of what we will then accomplish for our environment and for the quality of life of our people.

As always, the members and families that are the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation will be in the forefront of this progress, because you have demonstrated you know how to discern truth.

I wish you continued success, and God’s blessing on all you do!