Op-Ed - Sharing Common Interests: EPA and the Agricultural Community

By Lawrence Elworth

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the American agricultural community share a common interest in the environment. The EPA has a mission to safeguard the quality our nation's air, water and soil and health of our people. Farmers rely on clean air, abundant water
resources and healthy soil as critical raw materials for their industry, which supports the health of people across the US and around the world.

I've seen this interaction from both perspectives, as an orchard manager, and today in my job as senior agricultural adviser to EPA's administrator, Lisa P. Jackson, and I know the challenges on both sides. This administration has taken significant steps to make sure our policies work under the unique characteristics of the farming community, like widely dispersed farms and numerous individual operators. We have also taken into account the challenging circumstances American farmers face, from the small margins and international competition, to the adverse, unpredictable conditions and difficulties of operating small business, that complicate the tasks of making a living on the land.

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There aren't many one-size-fits-all approaches in this field and having real world information matters whether it is in making decisions about biofuels or understanding how a federal law against oil spills inadvertently called for treating spilled milk like spilled diesel. Administrator Jackson and EPA experts went to work with the farming community, applied common sense, and made decisions based on the facts - providing a path for America's energy future and exempting milk containers from oil spill regulations.

A more recent example of how EPA works with agriculture can be seen in our deliberations and interactions with farmers over the issue of the National Ambient Air quality Standards for particulate, also known as PM-10 or “farm dust.”  The EPA is required by the Clean Air Act to review our PM-10 standards every five years. Following that schedule in the law, EPA initiated a review of the science by an independent panel and conducted a policy assessment of that review to determine if any changes were called for. The results of the study were/are available to the public.

At the same time, we recognized the unique issues for farmers and rural communities that needed to be taken into consideration.  Anyone who has lived on or near gravel roads knows that some dust is a fact of life. Administrator Jackson went to rural communities to talk with farmers,
and directed her staff to conduct meetings across the country to learn more about the specific issues those communities were facing.

After reviewing the science and the policy options - and seeing the work farmers have done in places like the San Joaquin Valley to reduce air quality impacts - Administrator Jackson this week reaffirmed her commitment to protecting air quality and human health. In doing so she
further indicated that she was prepared to propose that we keep the current PM 10 standard.   Again, the facts have mattered, with science and real world data serving as the basis for EPA's decision and interaction with the farm community.

The EPA also recognizes that circumstances may pose unique challenges for farmers as they adopt environmental protections and confront forces of nature outside their control.  This year farmers throughout the Midwest and south have dealt with devastating and extended flooding that overwhelmed their operations and communities. After speaking to farmers, university scientists, and agricultural agencies, EPA recognized that farmers' ability to implement practices for storage tanks in their operations had been severely hampered. As a result, EPA has provided an extended period of time for farmers to put in place additional protections, and made sure that information and technical assistance will be available during times of the year most suited to farmers - during the seasons they are not raising or harvesting crops.

On issue after issue, we have seen the value of early and substantive engagement with the agricultural community. Our recent actions have shown the strength of EPA's commitment to farmers' particular needs, and our ability to find solutions that fulfill both sides of our
relationship. The critical work that our farmers are doing to protect and preserve healthy soil, air, and water resources, as well as the invaluable contributions they make producing food and fiber for our country and the world, can and should continue to work hand in hand.


Elworth is Agricultural Advisor to the Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

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