Chairman Lucas, Ranking Member Peterson and Members of this committee, thank you for inviting me to testify. I’m pleased to be here today.
I have great respect for the oversight role of Congress and believe that this ongoing dialogue is central to the commitment I have made to the American people to conduct EPA’s business transparently and with accountability.
I also believe an important part of that commitment is to dispel certain myths about EPA’s work and its impact on agriculture. These mischaracterizations are more than simple distractions; they prevent real dialogue to address our greatest problems. And so, today, I would like to spend a few minutes addressing some of them directly.
Let me begin, though, with one simple fact that I proudly embrace: farmers and ranchers are an essential part of our economy. They give us food, fiber, and fuel. The innovators in American agriculture deserve great credit for the significant steps they’ve taken to protect the environment while feeding millions of people.
With that recognition in mind, my direction to EPA has been to establish a consistent dialogue with the agriculture community, which is crucial to our work.
This is why I would like to take a moment today to address some of the mischaracterizations that have been, at times, unaddressed, or that need to be addressed again. As I’m sure you would agree, Mr. Chairman, facts matter and we all have a responsibility to ensure that the American people have facts and the truth in front of them, particularly when fictions are pushed by special interests with an investment in the outcome.
Let me give you five examples:
One is the notion that EPA intends to regulate the emissions from cows – what is commonly referred to as a “Cow Tax.” This myth was started in 2008 by a lobbyist and –quickly de-bunked by the non-partisan, independent group fact-check.org – it still lives on. The truth is - EPA is proposing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in a responsible, careful manner and we have even exempted agricultural sources from regulation.
Another mischaracterization is the claim that EPA is attempting to expand regulation of dust from farms. We have no plans to do so, but let me be clear, the Clean Air Act passed by Congress mandates that the Agency routinely review the science of various pollutants, including Particulate Matter, which is directly responsible for heart attacks and premature deaths. EPA’s independent science panel is currently reviewing that science, and at my direction EPA staff is conducting meetings to engage with and listen to farmers and ranchers well before we even propose any rule.
Another example involves spray drift. While no one supports pesticides wafting into our schools and communities, EPA does not support a “no-spray drift policy.” EPA has been on the record numerous times saying this, but the incorrect belief that EPA desires to regulate all spray drift persists. We have reached out to National Association of State Departments of Agriculture and other key stakeholders. Working with them, we have been able to identify critical issues and we will continue our efforts to resolve them.
Yet another mischaracterization is the false notion that EPA is planning on mandating Federal numeric nutrient limits on various States. Again, let me be clear: EPA is not working on any federal numeric nutrient limits. We will soon be releasing a framework memo to our regional offices that makes it clear that addressing nitrogen and phosphorus pollution – which is a major problem - is best addressed by the States, through numerous tools, including proven conservation practices. The case of Florida is unique – the last Administration made a determination that federal numeric nutrient standards were necessary in Florida, requiring EPA to develop such standards.
And finally is the notion that EPA intends to treat spilled milk in the same way as spilled oil. This is simply incorrect. Rather, EPA has proposed, and is on the verge of finalizing an exemption for milk and dairy containers. This exemption needed to be finalized because the law passed by Congress was written broadly enough to cover milk containers. It was our work with the dairy industry that prompted EPA to develop an exemption and make sure the standards of the law are met in a commonsense way. All of EPA’s actions have been to exempt these containers. And we expect this to become final very shortly.
Contrary to the myths is the reality I spoke of earlier. EPA is in close consultation with America’s farmers and ranchers. We have listened to their concerns and made them a part of the work we do. Let me give just one example that is very important to this committee.
When EPA proposed higher renewable fuels production mandates under RFS 2, we heard – again through extensive public comments and direct conversations – the ethanol industry’s concerns with the analysis of greenhouse gas impacts, which EPA was conducting under a requirement from Congress. We addressed their concerns, and we now have a rule that encourages vast innovation, respects the needs of agricultural communities, and is expected to create jobs and increase farmers’ incomes by $13 billion annually by 2022.
Mr. Chairman, everyone in this room, has the same desire – to have safe water, air and land for our children – and to do so in a way that maintains our economic strengths. EPA will continue to work with this committee, as well as our partners in the States and the agricultural community to achieve the goals we have set together, and to serve the values we all share. Thank you.