The Environmental Protection Agency tells AgriTalk that it wants to improve its relationship with the ag industry.
It’s no secret that agriculture has long had a tumultuous relationship with the Environmental Protection Agency. And for good reason. From Clean Water Act lawsuits to releasing private information about livestock farms to even proposing dust regulations, it’s easy to see why farmers might regard the agency with a skeptical eye.
However, Sarah Bittleman, ag counselor for the EPA, recently told AgriTalk that the agency is working to change that attitude.
"I am very sorry that folks feel that EPA is targeting them or penalizing them; that is not our intention, nor is it our goal," Bittleman said. "What the administrator is really trying to do ... is to get the message out that instead of feeling penalized, we're trying to get to a place where we're actually helping farmers and ranchers do their jobs better."
She said the agency plans to achieve this by giving producers more scientific information, and working with producers and conservation groups to improve practices and eventually achieve cleaner water, air and land.
Bittleman said she thinks this coincides with what producers already seek to do.
"What I know about agriculture is that agriculture is always improving what they do," she said. "They're improving their yields, they're improving their use of pesticides and herbicides, they're reducing runoff, they're improving their soil health, and EPA wants to be a partner in that."
Bittleman explained that one of the agency’s goals is to get more EPA workers to spend more time out on farms and ranches so they can better understand what farmers and ranchers already do to help the environment. From there, she said, they can determine whether those practices work within current EPA regulations so farmers can get credit for what they are already doing.
"We really want to respect the work that folks are already doing out there. It seems only fair," she said.
But what about EPA regulatory overreach? And what about the agency releasing producers’ private information through the Freedom of Information Act?
"What we think is that there's been a lot of confusion in this area," Bittleman said.
Hear what she had to say about these issues on AgriTalk: