The Hagstrom Report

Agriculture News As It Happens

Jackson reaching out to fight EPA myths


After months of criticism from rural Republican House members and senators, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson has decided to reach out to rural America to explain the agency’s initiatives and respond to what she calls the “myths” about the agency.

“There is a lot said about this agency. People need to hear directly from me,” Jackson said to members of the North American Agricultural Journalists when they visited EPA headquarters at her invitation on Tuesday. “We need to get past myths versus reality,” she said. “Myths breed a cultural distrust.”

Jackson took the opportunity to announce that EPA had exempted milk from a regulation to prevent oil spills, even though the law covers animal fats. Noting that she had worked with the dairy industry to develop the exemption, Jackson said, “This is a success story, but it did not stop the myth that EPA wants to regulate milk.”

But Jackson also explained her broader view of the world.

Although some farm leaders have vilified her as an urbanite with very little sensitivity to rural America or agriculture, Jackson noted she had been the commissioner of environmental protection in New Jersey, known as the Garden State. New Jersey, she said, has an unfair image as an industrial state, but has a lot of farm land that is being endangered by development pressures.

Jackson noted that she has traveled recently to rural Georgia and California and is planning to a trip to Iowa soon. On her trip to California, she said, her “biggest takeaway” was how much farmers are doing for environmental protection.

Jackson said she is very aware that farming is family-based, has small margins and is subject to international competition.

On her first day on the job, Jackson said, she issued a memorandum that at EPA, “We will devote ourselves to the best science.” But she added that the agency’s mandate is to keep air and water clean, and that polls show the American people want “a strong EPA to protect their health.”

Listing the myths, Jackson said EPA has never had plans for a “cow tax” even though cows do contribute to greenhouse gases. The cow tax myth, she said, is an example of people developing “a horrible, horrible, story and then getting paid a lot of money to make sure it doesn’t happen. That is my summary of lobbying today.”

On regulating dust from unpaved roads, Jackson noted that dust has a definite relationship to heart disease and that the Clean Air Act requires the agency every five years to evaluate the impact of “particulate matter.” A scientific board has recommended lowering the allowable standard for particulate matter, but the EPA staff has said the standard could be left the same or lowered. Jackson said she will make a final decision on the matter in the next few months.

But when a reporter said that one farm group had suggested that members make plans to lower the speed of trucks and plan to use water to reduce dust, Jackson said that, while she appreciates the desire to anticipate the agency’s actions, farmers and others potentially affected by the regulation should wait until the agency acts before taking any steps. “Wait, wait before you start spending money,” she said.

On drift from chemicals, Jackson said there is a myth that EPA has a “no-spray drift policy,” but that is not the case because it would hard to meet that standard. Jackson said she is considering a labeling provision that would state that it is impossible to avoid all drift.

Jackson also cited the importance of her relationship with the Agriculture Department. She said corn-based ethanol did not appear to meet the emission requirements of the renewable fuel standard, but that USDA was able to show EPA that the fuel would be climate-neutral.

House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., has suggested that EPA may be encouraging environmental groups to file suits against the agency that the agency then settles, but Jackson said, “There has been no major change in this administration in this agency’s response to law suits.”

The agency does work with the Justice Department to decide whether to fight a suit or settle it, because fighting the suits costs of a lot of public money, “but we certainly don’t collude with environmental groups in reaching these settlements,” she said.

About Republican demands that EPA conduct cost-benefit analyses of regulations, Jackson said such analyses are already part of the process. Critics have complained that EPA underestimates the cost of regulation, but Jackson said EPA often overestimates the cost of rules because new technology sometimes makes the cost of complying with regulation cheaper than initially estimated.

Jackson noted that the continuing resolution that will fund the government through the end of the 2011 fiscal year does not contain any riders that would prevent EPA with continuing its work to allow the use of E15 gasoline or to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act.

President Obama “has been clear” that he does not want any delay or loss of authority in EPA’s ability to address greenhouse gas issues, Jackson said, but she concluded firmly that whatever action the agency takes, “There would be no cap and trade under the Clean Air Act. It is not authorized.”