EPA: Friend or Foe?

January 3, 2014 07:01 PM
EPA: Friend or Foe?

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and Environmental Protection Agency work through strained relationships

Cattle roaming the land and lush green corn lining country roads is a picture of American agriculture that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says they want to not only stay, but to be even more efficient in the future.

"We really want to partner with [farmers] to get to the common goals we all share: cleaner air, cleaner water, cleaner land," says Sarah Bittleman, EPA agricultural counselor. "We don’t think we can do it without agriculture."

Despite EPA’s statements, groups such as the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) say it’s become a war with the agency.

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"We’ve been fighting EPA for years. In fact, we joke EPA now stands for "eliminating production agriculture" because it seems like every time we turn around, they’re coming after us," says Collin Woodall, NCBA vice president of government affairs.

"We understand that we are regarded with a certain amount of cynicism, but the bottom line is we share the same goals as farmers and ranchers," Bittleman says. "We want to see America’s farmers and ranchers be productive; we want [them] to stay on the land and keep growing, producing and innovating."

Battle over water. NCBA says it’s EPA’s actions, not its talk, that spark fear within the industry—fear that one day EPA will dictate not only what they farm or ranch, but how they do it. Woodall says the latest example is the upcoming ruling on the Clean Water Act.

"Now we’re worried about their effort to try to once again redefine what is a water of the U.S. by taking the word ‘navigable’ out of that definition," Woodall says.

Even in-ground stock tanks or dry streams could be deemed a water of the U.S., he adds. If that happens, it is under the jurisdiction of EPA. "It’d be a huge land grab, because if this moves forward, producers would have to file for a permit from EPA to use that body of water and the land around it," Woodall says.

"While I understand that people are concerned that EPA not overreach its jurisdictional boundaries on waters of the U.S., we think there’s been a lot of confusion in this area," Bittleman says. "What EPA is really intending to do is to provide some clarification."

Once the ruling is released, there will be a comment period for producers to voice concerns, she says.

"In the meantime, the existing agricultural exemptions under the law still exist, and we expect [they] will continue to exist," she says.

Despite concerns from agriculture groups, she adds, EPA wants to "help agriculture stay on the land, keep doing what they’re doing ... and keep improving what they do."

To contact Tyne Morgan, e-mail tmorgan@farmjournal.com.

Watch the "AgDay" interview with Sarah Bittleman, EPA agricultural counselor, and Colin Woodall, NCBA vice president, at www.BeefToday.com/EPA_friend_or_foe


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