When County Commission briefly deliberated on the East Sector Plan and Midway business park at its last meeting, Commissioner Brad Anders said "we can't keep saying no to business if we want jobs in Knox County." On the campaign trail, Bill Haslam habitually notes that we must balance environmental regulations and business interests. These seemingly innocuous remarks cause me great concern.
For starters, I cannot recall when Knox County has ever said no to business. So much land has already been developed that we have altered the hydrology of creeks. Every big rainstorm brings some new incidence of flooding where flooding did not occur before. This has become such a problem on First Creek that the city and county have had to do expensive work on stream banks and channels to try to keep homes and businesses along Broadway from being flooded.
No one asked the upstream developers to foot the bill for this work, nor did the county adopt impact fees. Instead of asking developers to pay in proportion to the amount of impervious surface they create, taxpayers underwrite the flood risks developers create. This is one of the ways Knox County says not just yes, but "Hell yes!" to business.
If there is balance to be found between making money and destroying living ecosystems, these are the primary facts: 98 percent of Eastern forests have been logged, 54 percent of wetlands have been drained or filled. We cannot find balance by continuing to erode nature, only by gradually restoring it, and that is generally what has occurred in the U.S. in the past few decades.
Forests are maturing again and supporting the diverse flora and fauna they supported before they were logged—minus, of course, passenger pigeons, chestnuts, bison, and the many obscure creatures extirpated or made extinct by rapacious logging. Once-denuded forests now support glorious wildflower blooms, songbird orchestras, and a show of turning leaves against clear-blue skies all autumn long. Even winter is impeccably rendered in sapsucker and frost flowers.
Ecological health is on the rebound, and the balance we need to find depends on Appalachian forests regenerating and producing harvests. We would not need as many manure-leeching chicken lots if passenger pigeon meat was sold in stores.
Colonial and social animals were hit especially hard by logging and development. Bison, deer, and turkey were virtually extinct from eastern North America, but held on in the western U.S. Deer and turkey are now back in harvestable abundance, and bison may yet return. We will not see passenger pigeons darken the skies like our Founders did.
If there is an imbalance between nature and man's activities, it is on our side. We can live comfortably with far tamer energy consumption. We can be smarter. We can let our markets respond to the risks of pollution and depletion. We can create a more perfect union.
Unfortunately, well-paid voices lie to us daily, and we have lost sight of the better America.
We can say no to business if a proposal is destructive, polluting, and poorly conceived; we must. Short-term profits and short-lived jobs do not yield stable economies. When we protect our natural resources, we sustain and preserve opportunity. Finding sustainability requires balance, yet Haslam and Anders argue for imbalance while the health of nature remains fragile.
Our country has been beating its head against simple-minded, corporate politics for decades, and sometimes it feels good to simply stop. The cure for America this fall is to go cold turkey on the party that always ends up with the money, the Republicans.
Vote Tea Party, Green, Libertarian, even Democrat, just do not vote Republican in November. They are out of balance. Stop beating your head against that wall and feel better instantly.