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EPA Can't Serve Two Masters

DC Dialogue

Agriculture and environmentalists both can't get what they want from EPA.

Published on: August 23, 2013

As shown earlier this month, it's hard for the Environmental Protection Agency to serve two masters.

On one side, EPA seems to be drumming up efforts to try to mend broken fences with the agricultural community. Maybe it is finally recognizing the agency needs to work side-by-side with farmers to protect the land since they're the ones on the front lines.

But on the flip side, environmental activists groups call for policies that might not be the most feasible as well as criticize any move that smells of EPA working in cooperation with landowners.

Newly-confirmed EPA administrator Gina McCarthy was at the Iowa State Fair Aug. 15 at the Farm Bureau picnic shelter and met with Iowa agricultural officials and farmers at an invitation-only event. 

During remarks to those in attendance, she said "we need you to tell us what's working and what isn't, and we need you to tell us where you need more flexibility from us." She added that those conversations are important and deeply inform the work that EPA does.

During the confirmation process of McCarthy, she said better bridges needed to be built with the agricultural community. (Read my previous blog post about those thoughts here.)

“My commitment to you is that at the end of my term, we will have a stronger, more productive, more trusting relationship between EPA and the agriculture community,” she said in her remarks at the state fair.

She claimed that EPA "stands ready to work with you," to those farmers in attendance.

It's a tall order, especially when her other constituency balks at any headline of EPA promising a better relationship with farmers. Iowa Gov. Terry Branstand was also at the state fair event, which brought criticisms from three Iowa environmental groups who denounced McCarthy for meeting with agriculture interests and the Republican-led Iowa Department of Natural Resources to discuss oversight to prevent pollution from manure. Agricultural groups have resisted additional regulation of livestock confinements and draft documents released last week indicated Iowa may have reached some consensus.

Specifically EPA only plans to require the Iowa DNR to inspect hog confinements with more than 5,000 hogs, which irked environmental groups because this contradicts EPA’s own guidance on inspections, which says all large CAFOs (over 2,500 hogs) need inspections to see if they require permits. Environmental groups also criticized EPA for only requiring inspections if manure is stored outside, instead of all hog confinements that store liquid manure close to vulnerable waterways.

The groups - Environmental Integrity Project (EIP), Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (Iowa CCI) and the Iowa Sierra Club – also met with McCarthy and Office of Water Chief Nancy Stoner in Des Moines to push them to "hold Iowa’s factory farms accountable for Clean Water Act violations," the groups said in a statement.

David Goodner, community organizer for Iowa CCI, said McCarthy was in Iowa on a "diplomatic mission" in an effort to make good on her tenure promise to improve relations with the agricultural and farm community. "We read that as code with make it nice with big money corporate agriculture groups," Goodner claimed.

Goodner said the environmental groups had a 30-minute conversation that was at times "tense." But he said they delivered their message loud and clear, that "talk wasn't good enough. She should be pledging to clean up water."

"EPA is publicly holding hands with the corporate ag guys, those who they're supposed to regulate," Goodner stated.

McCarthy's best promise to the environmental groups was that she wouldn't let anyone off the hook.

I guess time will tell what talk translates in to real life implications in McCarthy's tenure.