If Thursday's Senate Ag Committee hearing on EPA regulations was any indications, the agency has a major public relations campaign it needs to undertake in farm country. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson was greeted with lawmaker charges of "regulations run amok" or the perception of regulations run amok in the U.S. ag community. And those complaints didn't come just from Republicans -- Democrats were equally as critical of the agency's regulatory bent.
Senate Ag Committee Chair Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) expressed disappointment to Jackson over "vague, overreaching and unnecessarily burdensome EPA regulation" on agriculture in her opening remarks. "Right now, at a time when every American feels anxious about his or her own economic future and the economic future of the country, our farmers, ranchers, and foresters are facing, as I count them, at least 10 new regulatory requirements," Lincoln stated. "Each of which will add to their cost, making it harder for them to compete in a world that is marked by stiff and usually unfair competition. And most, if not all, of these regulations rely on dubious rationales and, as a consequence, will be of questionable benefit to the goal of conservation and environmental protection."
Lincoln called on Jackson and EPA to use "common-sense goals, instead of using the command and control, top-down approach that this Administration has relied on thus far." Further, she urged Jackson to "work together with the agriculture community to set these common-sense goals, instead of using the command and control, top-down approach that this Administration has relied on thus far."
And Lincoln wasn't alone. the panel's ranking Republican Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) also raised regulatory concerns with the EPA chief, noting examples of the more than 20 different efforts underway at EPA that affect agriculture. "No one disputes the need or desire for clean air and water, bountiful habitat and healthy landscapes," he noted. "But at some point, which I believe we are getting dangerously close to, regulatory burdens on farmers and ranchers will hinder rather than help them become better stewards of the land and more bountiful producers of food, fiber and fuel."
Other lawmakers raised several specific examples of EPA regulations that are creating concern in farm country like rules or proposals on dust, spray drift and more, imploring Jackson and her agency to step back and really consider the impact of their decisions on agriculture.
For her part, Jackson sought to reassure lawmakers that her agency wasn't "targeting" farmers with their regulatory plans, nor did she have an "agenda" she was pursuing. And each lawmaker concern was met with assurances from Jackson that EPA would work with the ag industry and farm-state lawmakers when it came to the various regulatory issues raised at the hearing.
Still, given the bipartisan concerns expressed during the hearing, it is clear that EPA has got a major perception problem in farm country -- one that will take action, not just promises, to help ease these concerns.
Another issue lawmakers focused on in the hearing is the still-awaited decision by EPA on whether to allow up to 15% ethanol (E15) in the nation's fuel supply.
Jackson told lawmakers that the Dept. of Energy (DOE) was going to deliver results of engine tests to EPA by the end of this month and that EPA would then announce a decision on E15 being allowed in cars 2007 and newer within two weeks after receiving that data.
As for 2001-2006 cars, Jackson informed the tests were still ongoing and that DOE was not expecting to deliver the results to EPA until the end of 2010. However, DOE Secretary Stephen Chu said at a separate Washington event that his agency would deliver the test results to EPA by the end of November.
But no matter which official is right, a decision on the "older" cars -- those made in 2001-2006 -- won't be made until late-2010 or early 2011. And Jackson also said that there are no tests underway on vehicles older than 2001.