The Planted Row: We need the EPA

Stan Wise Farm Forum Editor
Farm Forum

From fears about the “waters of the U.S.” rule, to rules about wetlands to fears about the potential loss of certain pesticides, most farmers I interact with seem to view the Environmental Protection Agency and its regulations as a threat to agriculture. So, it might come as no surprise that many of them were pleased when President Donald Trump appointed Scott Pruitt — a man who sued the EPA 14 times as Oklahoma’s attorney general — as the new EPA administrator.

Certainly, farmers had reason to cheer his appointment when he suspended the waters of the U.S. rule. And perhaps their spirits soared last summer when Pruitt agreed with a radio interviewer’s description of him as someone who wants to dismantle the EPA.

And maybe that’s happening slowly. Pruitt has stripped the authority of regional administrators to determine which bodies of water fall under the EPA’s jurisdiction and which industry projects would threaten those waters. His office alone now retains that authority, restricting the reach of the Clean Water Act.

In December, Pruitt wrote a memo stating that the EPA would no longer be challenging a Michigan-based energy company accused of making modifications to its plant without acquiring the permits for an increased pollution output.

Also, the new Farm Bill proposed in the U.S. House of Representatives would give the EPA the authority to approve pesticides for use without reviews of their impact on endangered species.

So, the Environmental Protection Agency has an administrator who doesn’t seem too interested in protecting the environment. That’s music to farmers’ ears, right?

Perhaps not.

It seems that Pruitt’s EPA has been handing out Renewable Fuel Standard waivers to refineries “like trick or treat candy,” according to a refinery executive, even after the RFS volumes were set lower than statutory levels to make them more attainable by the oil industry. So, they’ve lowered the renewable fuel obligations and then effectively lowered them again with the issuance of so many waivers. Now, even less of the clean-burning biofuel that corn farmers are working so hard to create will make its way into our country’s vehicles.

Suddenly, farm group leaders and ethanol industry executives are remembering that a commitment to protecting the environment isn’t such bad thing, and they are sending letters to Pruitt expressing their disappointment at his disregard for America’s renewable fuel industry.

So, we don’t want the EPA protecting the environment when it hurts our pocketbooks, but we do want it looking out for Mother Nature when it will help our bottom line.

I’m going to offer a radical suggestion. Maybe the EPA should be doing its utmost to protect the environment all the time, and we should have Congress and the court system place reasonable limits on how far it is allowed to go in its mission.

In life, I have found that it’s very important to carefully weigh the opinions of smart people who disagree with you. Even if the president doesn’t have a strong environmental agenda, the EPA and its administrator should always be a voice advocating for environmental responsibility — to make sure he doesn’t go too far. To make sure we all don’t go too far.

This probably sounds like a bunch of liberal hooey, but remember, the EPA was created through an executive order by a Republican president — Richard Nixon.

We all like to talk about how our farmers and ranchers are feeding the world’s growing population. But what will it matter if, in the process of feeding the world, we destroy the natural world around us?

To keep that from happening, we need smart people constantly encouraging us to remember the environment so we can carefully consider every action we take.