The terrorist attacks of 9/11 may have opened “a window of opportunity” to get relief from some of the “unreasonable environmental regulations” that have plagued American agriculture for more than two decades, says Jay Lehr.

“Maybe now that we've seen what real risks are — how people can die in unexpected ways — we can back off from some of the regulatory craziness we've been subjected to,” he told members of the Southern Crop Production Association at their annual meeting at New Orleans.

Lehr, senior scientist for Environmental Education Enterprises, Inc., writes environmental textbooks for major publishers. His latest tome weighs in at 5 pounds, with 1,700 pages. He has helped write several major pieces of environmental legislation, including the Safe Drinking Water Act, Superfund, the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act, and others, and has testified on environment issues before Congress 32 times.

“Not everyone shares my optimism for regulatory improvement,” he said. “Many feel that after some time passes from 9/11, things will just go back to the way they were. My reply is: They will — if we don't do anything.

“Your industry is going to have to play a role, strengthen your resolve, and speak more forcefully in defending what you do with the chemicals you use and the non-risks involved.”

The environmental achievements of American agriculture “have been magnificent,” Lehr said “Farmers know how to use chemicals. We don't store leaky containers, we don't wash our sprayers right next to wells, we don't over-apply chemicals. The farmer today is no longer part of the problem — he is part of the solution.

“He is using chemicals wisely, and the benefits of these chemicals is one of the reasons we've been able to triple our yields in this country since 1960. We now have the cleanest environment on the planet, and the farmer has helped to bring that about.”

Describing the environmental movement as “initially the most successful grassroots effort his country has ever seen,” Lehr said things began to go awry in the early 1980s “when people with hidden agendas realized that the environment had become such an apple pie/motherhood issue that it could be a powerful tool for political purposes.

“When these advocacy groups took over the environmental movement, we started losing individual freedoms, saw the taking away of lands, endangered species regulations, etc. We saw the rise of junk science — not real science that understands what real risks are.”

Laboratory technology, Lehr said, “has raced by our ability to realistically comprehend. We now have the ability to analyze parts per quadrillion. Not many people have a clue what this order of magnitude means: one part per quadrillion is equal to one hair out of all the hair on all the heads of all the people on the planet.

“It's absurd that we're taking things to this level. It makes no sense in science. But the environmentalists scare people with it. They say, ‘Forget science; when it comes to testing, we can't be too safe.’”

But, Lehr said, “Every dollar spent chasing unsubstantiated risk is a dollar that can't be used for something else.”

Global warming is an example of unsubstantiated risk, he said. “Man's impact on the environment has been small. Poverty has killed, and continues to kill, far more people than global warming. The poor in the U.S. die at three times the rate of other Americans; 87 percent of the premature deaths in this country are the result of poor diet, unsafe neighborhoods, and other factors directly related to poverty.

“We spend billions regulating pesticides, banning asbestos and DDT, and all that money could have saved millions of lives through more available medication, better sanitation, mosquito control to prevent millions of lives lost to malaria, and better nutrition.”

The World Trade Center/Pentagon attacks were not the first major episodes of terror in the U.S., Lehr said. “For 20 years, strident organizations have been destroying biotech research laboratories, ripping up research plots, etc., and the government and the media have looked the other way, saying it's a form of free speech.

“I believe we will win the war against foreign terrorism. But all of us are soldiers in the war on agricultural terrorism, and we have to continue fighting against overbearing, unnecessary regulations that cost lives by reducing the amount of food we can produce and the level of health we can protect.”