IT'S hard for the Environmental Protection Agency to serve two masters, as shown last week.
On one side, EPA knows it needs to work side by side with farmers to protect the land since they're on the front lines. On the flip side, though, environmental activists often call for policies that might not be the most feasible and also criticize any move that smacks of EPA working in cooperation with landowners.
On Aug. 15, newly confirmed EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy met with Iowa agricultural officials and farmers at an invitation-only event in the Farm Bureau picnic shelter during the Iowa State Fair.
McCarthy told those in attendance, "We need you to tell us what's working and what isn't, and we need you to tell us where you need more flexibility from us." She added that those conversations are important and greatly inform the work that EPA does.
During her confirmation process, McCarthy said EPA must build better bridges with agriculture.
"My commitment to you is that, at the end of my term, we will have a stronger, more productive, more trusting relationship between EPA and the agriculture community," she said at the Iowa fair.
She pledged to farmers in attendance that EPA "stands ready to work with you."
It's a tall order, especially when her other constituency balks at any news of EPA promising a better relationship with farmers.
The state fair event brought criticisms from three Iowa environmental groups, which denounced McCarthy for meeting with agricultural interests and the Republican-led Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to discuss oversight for preventing pollution from manure.
Agricultural groups have resisted additional regulation of livestock confinement operations, and draft documents released last week indicate that Iowa may have reached some consensus.
Specifically, EPA plans to require the Iowa DNR to inspect only hog confinements with more than 5,000 hogs, which irked environmental groups because it contradicts EPA's own guidance on inspections that says all large confinement operations (more than 2,500 hogs) need inspections to determine if they require permits.
The groups also criticized EPA for requiring inspections only if manure is stored outside instead of for all hog confinements that store liquid manure close to vulnerable waterways.
The groups — Environmental Integrity Project, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and Iowa Sierra Club — said they also met with McCarthy and Office of Water chief Nancy Stoner to push them to "hold Iowa's factory farms accountable for Clean Water Act violations."
McCarthy promised the environmental groups that she's not letting anyone off the hook — but that wasn't enough to appease them.
McCarthy noted that EPA has "heard" industry concerns regarding renewable fuel standard production volumes.
She tried to walk the fine line, noting that EPA is "committed to supporting the production of renewable fuels" and adding that they're good for the economy and environment.
However, although maintaining the set levels for 2013, she said EPA signaled that by 2014, it must come up with a plan to address the fact that the nation is behind on renewable fuel production from what Congress originally envisioned.
McCarthy said EPA has to be "realistic" about the renewable fuel blending it will require of the oil industry and provide flexibility to "keep balance in the marketplace."