Earth Day

Next Tuesday, April 23, if you’re feeling guilty because you didn’t do enough to celebrate Earth Day, which came the day before, here’s what you can do: Go see Patricia Martin (pictured) in Chico State’s Plumas 102, where at 7 p.m. she will talk about how the government allows hazardous industrial-waste products to be sold as fertilizer. Martin is the former mayor of a tiny farming town in Washington called Quincy. A former professional basketball player, Martin entered politics quite by chance when she learned that dangerous waste products such as cadmium, lead and dioxin were included in the fertilizer that was being applied to farm lands in her town. Her crusade, which is documented in a book by Seattle Times investigative reporter Duff Wilson, led to her being ostracized by many in her community who feared she would ruin the town’s ag-based economy. The book, Fateful Harvest, was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize award and is a fascinating read, though it will ruin your appetite. Some 80 percent of the French fried potatoes sold to the nation’s fast-food restaurants come from the region where Martin lives. In other words, this is a matter that affects any American who, well, eats.

The practice of hiding waste products in fertilizer is somewhat encouraged by the Environmental Protection Agency’s promotion of recycling. Industries such as chrome-plating factories or iron smelters have learned that they can either pay money to ship their waste products off to hazardous-waste landfills or get paid to sell the stuff as fertilizer. What red-blooded American businessman isn’t going to opt for the latter—especially if it’s legal? As long as the stuff includes a chemical that is actually needed in fertilizer—phosphorous, for instance—then it doesn’t matter what other chemicals go along for the ride into the farmer’s fields. Europe and Canada do regulate the sale of fertilizer. And here is the really scary part. Before Martin made her discovery, there were no laws in the state of Washington regulating what goes into fertilizer. When Martin started making noise, the industry decided to do something. So it lobbied the state Legislature to pass a law saying it’s OK to sell industrial waste as fertilizer. Happy Earth Day and bon appetit!

Remember Ward Connerly, the owner of a land-use consulting company who in his spare time works to free minorities from the shackles of affirmative action? He used to work shoulder to shoulder with our own late Assemblyman Bernie Richter to make sure minority-owned businesses would not be provided a level playing field when it came to being awarded state contracts or ditto women being hired in state jobs. Well, he’s at it again, this time working on a ballot initiative that would prohibit government agencies from compiling racial data. While that may sound good, groups such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund warn that the passage of the initiative could damage civil-rights protections and deprive minorities of political representation and public services. Connerly’s ideas would be admirable if we lived in a truly colorblind society, but you know and I know that we don’t. I mention this because I’ve learned that working for Connerly on this initiative is a Sacramento attorney named Charles Bell. Remember him? David Reade and the three county supervisors who tried to force new supervisor districts on Butte County voters brought him into the county redistricting fiasco last summer. Nice to see Bell is keeping busy.

This Sunday, April 21, join the Butte County chapter of the League of Women Voters as its members, in President Sharon Wallace’s words, "toot the horn" for their accomplishments during the past year, including sponsoring candidate and issue forums, supporting the Homeless Shelter Task Force, vigorously opposing the above-mentioned redistricting snafu and support of the county Resource Conservation District. To help celebrate, come to the Lakeside Pavilion at California Park at 4 p.m. for the league’s annual (and only) fundraiser, a "wine tasting and light buffet." Tickets are $15 and are available from any league member or at Ray’s Liquors or The Redwood Forest. For more information call 342-4663.