Can EPA 'Bridges' Fix Strained Ag Relationship?

EPA nominee Gina McCarthy states bridges need to be built with farming community and questioned on oil spill rule and livestock information release.

It's no secret in the countryside that the Environmental Protection Agency may not have the best interests of the agricultural community in mind, and its rules and actions continue to confirm the bad stereotype the agency holds.

The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works held a hearing Thursday on the nomination of Gina McCarthy to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). During questioning from members, she recognized the strain between the agricultural community and EPA and stated she wanted to change that relationship.

McCarthy, who is the current assistant administrator at EPA, met with members of the committee during the days leading up to the hearing. During brief questioning from the members at the hearing, she said she would abide by the "highest standards the law allows" her to and also commented that she recognized the current deteriorating relationship between farmers and ranchers and the agency.

"The agency has bridges to build with the agriculture community," McCarthy told senators at the nomination hearing. She added she looks forward to working with members to change that relationship.

"Whether it is releasing producers’ personal information to activist groups or trying to regulate all ponds and puddles across the U.S., EPA has not worked cooperatively with the cattle industry under the current administration,” said National Cattlemen's Beef Association deputy environmental counsel Ashley McDonald. “We sincerely hope Ms. McCarthy, if confirmed by the Senate, would work to improve this relationship which will ultimately have a more positive impact on the environment than the current anti-agriculture attitude that is prolific within the agency.”

Specifically EPA has come under fire from the agricultural community about the agency's release of confidential information about animal feeding operations. EPA acting administrator Bob Perciasepe has called for a retraction of the information released to environmental groups and McCarthy said she is committed to continuing the path forward to get that information.

In questioning from Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., McCarthy said, "I understand there is a great concern that the information went out and I will do everything I can to make sure that isn't repeated."

However, McCarthy stopped short of saying she would commit to not creating a national database which would make producer information publicly available and readily searchable through EPA’s website.

Fischer also asked about the EPA's Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasure (SPCC) rule. As part of the continuing resolution, lawmakers postponed until Sept. 30 a regulation that would have required on-farm tanks and drums with oil-storage capacity to have spill-prevention dikes in place.

If implemented, the rule would have required that oil storage facilities with a capacity of over 1,320 gallons make structural improvements to reduce the possibility of oil spills. The plan would have required farmers to construct a containment facility, like a dike or a basin, which must retain 110% of the fuel in the container.

The agricultural industry is supporting legislation that would adjust the minimum capacity upward to 10,000 gallons while the aggregate level on a production facility would move to 42,000 gallons. Fischer has introduced bipartisan legislation, the Farmers Undertake Environmental Land Stewardship Act (FUELS Act), to modify the SPCC rule to better reflect the spill risk and financial resources of farms.

Fisher asked if McCarthy would be supportive of that legislation and she responded she would be "more than happy to take a look at it." When asked if McCarthy was aware of any oil spills at the farm level, she responded that she was not aware of any.

McCarthy likely will be confirmed to the post. And even though she said she's a "meat eater" during the hearing, her lack of commitment on fixing top ag issues bears the question as to whether she truly wants to build relationships with the agricultural community.

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