EPA on Agriculture, Part 2

Ron Carleton, EPA on Agriculture, Part 2

By Laurie Greene, Editor

Editor’s note: In an exclusive interview with Ron Carleton, EPA Counselor to the Administrator for Agricultural Policy, we asked how the EPA views agriculture.

“Look, we want to work with agriculture,” said Ron Carleton, former deputy commissioner for the Colorado Department of Agriculture. “We have a number of issues and challenges we face across the country with water quality and other things. The thing that we often talk about is the adoption and implementation of conservation measures and best practices, and our producers are doing that,” he noted.

“Farmers are taking those very important steps,” explained Carleton, “to help get us from here to there. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy is very committed to working with agriculture, to have that dialogue, to have that discussion, to have those two-way communications. So, hopefully, we can work better together as we go forward and find those opportunities to collaborate and to partner. That is so key, and something that I strongly am committed to and strongly support.”

Ron Carlton, EPA Counselor to the Administrator for Agricultural Policy
Ron Carlton, EPA Counselor to the Administrator for Agricultural Policy

Carleton elaborated, “I absolutely believe the EPA is always willing to look for outreach opportunities to be with our producers to sit down, to have those discussion with farmers,” towards a common goal.

“We’ve worked with our pesticide folks around the state very closely to resolve any issues that might arise with pesticide issues. We want to get those tools and those products out to our producers, but to do so in a safe way, in a way that also protects the environment. So, I think it is about collaboration. It is about discussion and dialogue, and we are committed to doing more of that.”

With the EPA’s commitment to collaboration and partnership, Carleton said hopefully in the long run, we could address the many challenges that we all have—not only in agriculture—but in the environment as well.

“I’ve always said that our farmers and ranchers are the best stewards of the land,” said Carleton. “We at the EPA need to continue working with them to support them to promote those efforts as best we can.”

“Now, we are not without challenges out there—environmental challenges with water quality, for example, with nutrient pollution in some cases, and air issues in other cases. But I think that the way we lick those problems, again, is by working together promoting those voluntary efforts. We must look for and embrace those opportunities to work together, not only with our Ag stakeholders, but also with the USDA and the NRCS.

“I think we just need to continue what we are doing, engage even more farmers and ranchers,” Carleton said, “and continue to seek technological advances, not only in irrigation, but land management and water quality. I’m confident and I’m optimistic that even with the challenges we have, climate change, a doubling of the population by 2050 and all the problems these will pose, I have every confidence in the world that we are going to find solutions to these problems, and I think that our farmers and ranchers are going to lead the way.

USDA Horizontal Logo“Farmers and ranchers are innovative and always trying to do the best they can to protect their land and water; but we all can do better. I think our producers respond to change in very good ways. Look, we have gone through technological advances; we are more technically precise in using fertilizers and water,” Carleton said.

He noted, “Water is going to be an interesting issue as the population doubles and as we have more development, particularly in the Western part of the United States, which is drier. But I think our farmers and ranchers are good at responding to that change, and good at helping to develop, adopt, and implement those technical advances in a way that not only is environmentally good, but increases productivity.”

“They are doing more with less,” Carleton said, “particularly given the challenges of a growing population, not only here in this country, but around the world, the loss of productive agricultural land everyday to development and the increase in extreme weather events, including droughts, floods and the like—and California farmers know all too well the weather extremes.”

Debate Heats up on Proposed EPA Water-Quality Rule

Source: Kate Campbell; Ag Alert

Discussion has intensified about proposed changes to the Federal Clean Water Act. As farmers and ranchers express increasing concern about enhanced permitting requirements, land-use restrictions and legal liability that the proposal could cause, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency launched its own campaign to defend the proposal.

Agricultural leaders want the EPA to scrap the proposed rule changes, terming them a poorly orchestrated attempt to expand agency jurisdiction. The proposed rule was published in April, and remains open to public comment until October.

County Farm Bureaus in California are joining the national push to have the proposed rule changes withdrawn, reaching out to members of the state’s congressional delegation and urging the proposal be stopped.

Meanwhile, the EPA called its proposals merely an effort to clarify regulatory jurisdiction, which was called for in two U.S. Supreme Court decisions that ruled against the agency’s attempt to expand its jurisdiction over “waters of the United States.” EPA said the proposed rule would have minimal economic impact and would not affect many acres—only about 1,300 acres nationwide.

The American Farm Bureau Federation called that assertion “laughable,” considering the amount of land nationwide that has the capacity to retain seasonal moisture, a condition covered by the proposed rule. Under the proposal, legal experts say, wet spots could be deemed “waters of the U.S.”

AFBF said the EPA effort to expand its jurisdictional authority over most types of waters and lands is regulatory overreach that has the potential to impose costly and time-consuming federal permit requirements, as well as place limits on routine farming practices, such as building a fence across a ditch or pulling weeds. Essentially, EPA has proposed regulations that fundamentally redefine “waters of the U.S.” and eliminate the term “navigable” from the law, AFBF said.

“We’re urging Congress to take a look at the proposed rules and we’re urging the agency to withdraw both of them,” California Farm Bureau Federation Federal Policy Manager Rayne Pegg said, referring to both the main EPA proposal redefining “waters of the U.S.” and an “interpretive rule” that focuses on agricultural activities.

Pegg stressed that farmers recognize the need to protect water quality, and already abide by a number of water-quality regulations.

“Adding another layer of regulation does not mean you will get better results,” she said. “Instead, the rule will create more paperwork. It’s a poorly conceived rule. EPA should meet with farmers and listen to its own Scientific Advisory Board to craft something that is practical.”

There are a number of things going on in Congress right now related to these rules, she said, and CFBF has been responding to questions from members of congressional committees—including the House Appropriations Committee, which is considering legislation to remove funding for implementation of the proposed waters of the U.S. rule.

In response to the uproar over the proposal, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy took to the road last week—touring a Missouri farm and meeting with a number of Kansas farm groups. She acknowledged during a lunch discussion with agricultural leaders the waters of the U.S. proposal has “fallen flat on its face.”

But during a speech in Kansas City, she charged that the EPA proposal has been beset by “D.C. myths.”

“Misinformation is becoming the story, while the legitimate, serious issues that we need to talk about are taking the back seat,” McCarthy said.

At the same time McCarthy visited the Midwest, the Natural Resources Defense Council—an environmental organization—took out advertisements supporting the EPA proposal.

Confusion about what the proposed rule may actually cover and conflicting interpretations of the rule changes may leave political leaders with the impression the proposal is benign and that farmers don’t need to worry, said CFBF associate counsel Kari Fisher.

“EPA would like political leaders and the public to believe that all farmers need to do is go ahead with normal farming practices and not worry about the proposed changes,” she said. “Unfortunately, that’s incorrect.”

Fisher said the interpretive rule on agriculture would require certain farming practices—such as putting in a new fence or maintaining a ditch—to comply with U.S. Department of Agriculture standards administered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service. She noted that the interpretive rule would apply only to Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, which covers dredging and infilling land that could affect wetlands.

But the proposed rule to expand the definition of “navigable waters” applies to the entire Clean Water Act, she said, and would expand EPA jurisdiction over water.

“If the proposed rule redefining waters of the U.S. is adopted, farmers with land that features a depression or low spot that’s adjacent to a tributary flowing to navigable water could be brought under the rule’s jurisdiction,” Fisher said.

Although the interpretive rule might provide a limited layer of protection for farming and ranching activities from the need to obtain Section 404 permits, she said, “it will not provide protection from other necessary Clean Water Act permits, such as those for the discharge of pollutants.”

Farm Bureau leaders continue to urge members to help prevent the proposed rule from becoming final by commenting about the impact the proposal would have on their farms and ranches.

Information from EPA on the proposed changes to the CWA can be found online at www2.epa.gov/uswaters. Background information on the issue from AFBF is online at http://ditchtherule.fb.org/.

For information on arranging local farm tours, grower roundtables and informational meetings with members and staff of California’s congressional delegation, contact county Farm Bureau offices or the CFBF Federal Policy Division at 916-561-5610.