EPA to Build Trust with Farmers
Created by rrummel on 8/20/2013 4:23:41 PM

Courtesy: Des Moines Register


EPA's top official has pledged to build trust with farmers who have been roundly critical of federal regulation.

"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," Gina McCarthy, the newly-appointed administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said during a speech in Des Moines today. "Why are we going to do that? It benefits me, it benefits you and it will make this country stronger."

The Iowa farmers in the audience - including those who have chafed at the thought of regulation of farm dust and youth employment and heavy penalties for farm run-off problems - all applauded her warmly.

"She's probably the most on-track EPA director we've ever talked to," said Nancy Beyer, a co-owner of Koszta Farm Corp. corn and soybean farm in rural Belle Plaine. "This reception was quite favorable."

Environmental activists have no such warm feelings. They say proposed plans for more oversight of Iowa farm facilities are too weak and won't do enough to stop pollution in Iowa's waterways.

But no protesters disrupted the event, which took place at the Farm Bureau picnic shelter at the Iowa State Fairgrounds. McCarthy agreed to meet later with the environmental activists during a short meeting at the Des Moines airport.

McCarthy refused to answer questions from reporters today.

Iowa is in the middle of a long fight over how state officials will comply with the federal Clean Water Act. As with other states, the state Department of Natural Resources enforces the act for the EPA. Environmental groups say lax regulation of pollution by livestock operations has contributed to more manure spills, more manure reaching rivers and streams and higher drinking-water treatment costs.

Some activists contend that the government officials, including the Republican-led Iowa DNR and Branstad, are too cozy with farm interests in conducting the negotiations for how to provide oversight to prevent pollution from manure. DNR chief Chuck Gipp, Branstad, agriculture secretary Bill Northey and farm interests have resisted additional regulation of livestock confinements and anything but voluntary compliance in attempting to prevent fertilizer runoff.

McCarthy today applauded Iowa's development of a nutrient strategy, saying it's something "we can all be proud of and we can hold up to those other states to think about is a gigantic step forward."

"It's a commitment of all of you to do your part and do it wisely, successfully, using common sense step by step approaches to make progress. That's what it's all about. That's the work we're here to celebrate," she said.

She joked about her strong Boston accent, telling the Iowans that she tends to "drop Rs and add them where ever I damn well please."

Branstad, who took questions from reporters after the event, had nothing but favorable comments about McCarthy.

They didn't talk specifics about the oil industry's request to lower the amount of ethanol that must be blended into the U.S. gasoline supply in 2014, which Branstad described as "an attack" on Iowa's ag industry. But she's "very supportive of the Renewal Fuel Standard," Branstad said. McCarthy listened carefully to Iowa agribusiness representatives, including Bill Couser of Lincolnway Energy, Branstad said.

The meeting this afternoon at the airport - with three EPA officials, three Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement activists, two Iowa Sierra Club activists, one Environmental Integrity Project activist and a crop of Des Moines police and Secret Service agents - was tense at times, the activists said.

After seeing the headline on DesMoinesRegister.com about the EPA promising a better relationship with farmers, the activists weren't thrilled. "We told her what we'd have rather seen in that headline is that she's going to clean up our water out here," said Cherie Mortice, a Des Moines resident who operated a consignment hog operation in Story County for 10 years.

"Iowa already has 628 impaired waterways and nothing is reversing in an industry that's voluntarily regulated. It won't work in this state," said Barb Kalbach, a fourth-generation family farmer from Adair County. "At some point the damage will become irreversible."

"The best line we got out of her was, 'I won't let anyone off the hook,'" said David Goodner, an organizer with with Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, a group that has become well known for performing loud political theater to disrupt speakers it disagrees with. "It sounds good but it doesn't really mean a lot."