A high-ranking government agriculture official answered a wide range of sometimes volatile questions related to EPA’s regulation of agriculture.
Mike Adams, the host of AgriTalk, today treated the Farm Journal Forum 2013 audience to a live interview with Sarah Bittleman, senior agricultural counselor for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and Jack Bobo, senior advisor for biotechnology for the U.S. State Department.
The broadcast covered everything from climate change to environmental regulations.
Listen to the full AgriTalk broadcast:
Here’s an abbreviated version of Adam’s questions and Bittleman’s responses.
Q: How do we get past a confrontational relationship between agriculture and the EPA?
A: "A lot of it has to do with constant, consistent communication," said Bittleman. "We share common goals—cleaner air, water and land. We need to find a common language."
Q: The comment period for lowering the ethanol mandate opened today. Also, a public hearing is taking place in Arlington, Va. How open is the comment period?
A: "It’s an honest-to-goodness proposed rule," said Bittleman, adding that EPA put out an "honest-to-goodness solicitation of comments."
EPA, she said, needs as much real-time information as possible. "It’s not a numbers game of how many people show up [for hearings]," she said. "It’s a matter of how do we take the data [that we receive] and put it together to make a final rule."
Q: How quickly will EPA act to finalize the proposal at the end of the comment period?
A: "We hope to finalize it as soon as we can" after the comment period closes, she said, noting that this is a yearlong process, and the EPA will have to make another proposal for the ethanol purchase levels in 2015.
Q: How can businesses plan without certainty for the ethanol mandate in future years?
A: "The overall commitment to biofuels by this administration remains steady and true," Bittleman said. "Folks need to be confident that that is the case."
Q: Did the White House give you direction on the proposal?
A: Bittleman effectively answered in the affirmative. "All our rules and regulations go through interagency review managed by the Office of Management and Budget," she said.
Q: The industry is concerned that it may fall victim to sweeping regulations in the name of climate change. Will that happen?
A: Without answering the question directly, Bittleman asked farmers and ranchers to share their stories about climate mitigation.
"There’s some extraordinary stuff going on in agriculture today that is innovative and so forward looking," she said.
Q: Is the EPA intent on making a power grab through redefining what constitutes a navigable waterway?
A: "No we’re not," said Bittleman, noting that EPA was compelled to act by court decisions. "What we’re trying to do is provide more clarity. We have no interest in a power grab or expanding our authority."
Q: Will EPA adopt the same conservation policy to the Mississippi watershed that it used for the Chesapeake Bay?
A: "Each waterway is unique," Bittleman said, citing differences in topography, wildlife and neighboring population. "It would be remarkably difficult to take an approach used in one region and apply it to another."
Bittleman said she understands that agriculture feels like it’s been "singled out" for polluting waterways. She invited farmers to teach the EPA about new conservation practices, noting that her phone number is published online. And she commended the industry for producing incredible yield increases in recent years with less land and fewer nutrients.
Q: Will EPA be releasing private information about farmers in the future?
A: "The EPA continues to feel badly about the previous activity that happened," Bittleman said. "We put in place a number of safeguards to make sure that kind of thing doesn’t happen again."