From Antagonist to Ally
July 10, 2017
Written By Adam Buckallew
Agriculture Embraces EPA Administrator
Ask farmers for their views on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and you may hear a few choice words. Generally speaking, farmers fear and mistrust the EPA, an agency they say doesn’t understand agriculture and too often oversteps its authority when it comes to regulating farming operations. That attitude may be changing as the EPA evolves under new leadership.
Scott Pruitt was confirmed and sworn in Feb. 17 as the 14th administrator of the EPA. Pruitt, who formerly served as attorney general for the state of Oklahoma, recently embarked on a cross-country tour to share his plans to take EPA “back to basics” by refocusing the agency on its intended mission and returning power to the states.
When Pruitt took the stage at a visit to Thomas Hill Energy Center near Clifton Hill, Mo., on April 20, he received a hero’s welcome from the farmers, agriculture industry representatives and power plant employees in attendance.
“For too long, over the last eight years, we’ve had an administration that told us we had to choose between jobs growth and protecting our environment,” Pruitt told the crowd. “That is simply a false choice. We can be both pro-growth and pro-environment.”
During his speech, Pruitt was often interrupted with cheers and applause as he outlined his plans to roll back regulations from the previous administration, including the controversial Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule.
President Trump signed an executive order calling for the dismantling of the WOTUS rule on Feb. 28. The next day, Pruitt spoke at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s advocacy conference and called the executive order “the first step toward fixing what’s wrong with our government regulations.”
Pruitt pledged to the crowd in Clifton Hill that under his direction, the EPA would no longer engage in water regulation decisions at the state level.
“I believe that you care about the air you breathe and the water you drink,” Pruitt said. “The most important asset property owners have is their land. I know that. You know that. Washington, D.C. doesn’t know that.”
A New Day at the EPA
Pruitt was an unconventional selection to head the EPA. Prior to his appointment, he was known for routinely challenging the EPA’s regulatory oversight by filing more than a dozen lawsuits against the agency. Pruitt proudly proclaimed himself as “a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda” on his website while serving as Oklahoma’s attorney general. Now, Pruitt is hard at work as a reformer in the organization he formerly opposed. Farmers and leaders in agriculture view Pruitt’s approach to EPA as a breath of fresh air and look forward to working with him to reduce their regulatory burdens.
Blake Hurst, president of Missouri Farm Bureau, was among the contingent of farmers who welcomed Pruitt to Missouri.
“We are encouraged that it is a new day at the (EPA), one in which all sides are heard and common sense will be considered in decisions that affect people’s lives and economic livelihood,” Hurst said. “The last time an EPA administrator traveled to our state, she was in the midst of a lobbying campaign for the onerous Waters of the United States rule that would make 99 percent of Missouri land subject to federal regulation. President Trump’s decision to conduct a thorough review of the WOTUS rule is a good step, and we look forward to the day when government overreach is no longer standard operating procedure. Missouri farmers and ranchers work hard every day to produce an abundance of high-quality and affordable food and don’t need to be targeted for unnecessary and costly government regulations.”
Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Roy Blunt (R-MO), two of the 52 members of the U.S. Senate who voted to confirm Pruitt to his new post, welcome the opportunity to work with Pruitt to better serve farmers and other rural constituents.
“For years we have struggled with an EPA that was not only tone deaf to the needs and concerns of rural America, it was downright adversarial,” said Roberts, who chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee. “Producers were burdened with overregulation, which left them feeling ruled, not governed. I am confident Pruitt will lead an EPA that is more respectful of agriculture and will work to restore the trust of farmers, ranchers and rural Americans.”
Blunt struck a similarly optimistic tone when introducing Pruitt to the crowd at the Thomas Hill Energy Center.
“If you would have told me a year ago that we could be here today with Scott Pruitt as the administrator for the EPA, I would have said, ‘Surely it can’t be that good,’” Blunt said. “We have now someone at the EPA who has both fought the EPA and I believe is willing to make a new commitment for the EPA to be doing what the EPA is supposed to do.”
Building Farmers’ Trust
Besides rolling back regulations, Pruitt has committed to better manage the interaction between his agency and farmers. In May, he announced he would extend the implementation of the revised final Certification and Training of Pesticide Applicators rule by one year. Pruitt said EPA received feedback from states and stakeholders indicating more time and resources were needed to prepare for compliance with the rule. The extended timeline is expected to help EPA provide adequate compliance and training resources to the states.
“In order to achieve both environmental protection and economic prosperity, we must give the regulated community, which includes farmers and ranchers, adequate time to come into compliance with regulations,” Pruitt said. “Extending the timeline for implementation of this rule will enable EPA to consult with states; assist with education, training and guidance; and prevent unnecessary burdens from overshadowing the rule’s intended benefits.”
During his trip to Missouri, Pruitt met with Gov. Eric Greitens to discuss the pesticide applicator rule, among other issues.
“Administrator Pruitt proved the old way of doing business at the EPA is over and done with,” Greitens said in a news release. “We presented them with a problem, and they took quick action to begin fixing it. Missouri farmers have waited a long time for common sense government, and now it’s on its way. I’m grateful for this new leadership, and look forward to continuing to work with this administration to curb regulations that are killing jobs and hurting our farmers. It’s time for government to get out of the way and let our farmers farm.”
The meeting with Greitens is indicative of Pruitt’s commitment “to work in coordination with states to create a healthy environment where jobs and businesses can grow.”
Pruitt’s back-to-basics approach reflects his efforts to refocus the EPA on its core mission: protecting the environment by engaging with state, local and tribal partners to create sensible regulations that enhance economic growth.
One of the fundamental problems with EPA, Pruitt said, has been a breakdown in the federal-state partnership. He wants to steer the agency “back within its lane” and away from “picking winners and losers.”
Farmers are hopeful the new approach will mean less regulatory red tape and more freedom to operate. If Pruitt is successful in implementing his regulatory rollback goals, farmers may have to rethink their perceptions of the EPA. It may seem strange to think of a friendly face leading the EPA, but Pruitt appears to be on his way to transforming a former perceived antagonist into a potential ally.
EPA’s Back-to-Basics Agenda
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s “Back-to-Basics” agenda is intended to refocus the agency on its intended mission, return power to the states and create an environment where jobs can grow.
- Protect the environment by engaging with state, local and tribal partners to create sensible regulations that enhance economic growth.
- Review and, if appropriate, revise or rescind the Clean Power Plan.
- Review the Waters of the United States rule.
- Clear the backlog of chemicals awaiting EPA approval.
- Help states with air quality targets, toxic waste cleanup and water infrastructure issues.
- Rescind greenhouse gas and fuel economy standards for model year 2022-2025 vehicles and work with the U.S. Department of Transportation to review all vehicle standards.
- Review the Oil and Gas Methane New Source Performance Standards.
- Allocate funds for vital environmental projects, such as providing $100 million to upgrade drinking water infrastructure in Flint, Mich.
- Stop the methane Information Collection Request (ICR), which the EPA says costs U.S. businesses more than $42 million per year.
- Launch an EPA Regulatory Reform Task Force to undergo extensive reviews of the misaligned regulatory actions.