ENVIRONMENTAL Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy has really been trying to mend broken ties with the agricultural community, but can it be a reality?
After the agency's waters of the U.S. rule was released, many in the agriculture industry and representing agricultural districts on Capitol Hill were skeptical, if not downright critical, of the rule.
"Part of the challenge we have is that EPA does not have a trusting relationship with the ag community," McCarthy said, while pointing out that she has been working hard to fix those ties through meetings with farmers.
McCarthy opened her discussion at the North American Agricultural Journalists event I attended April 7 by noting that building the relationship with the agricultural community is her top priority as administrator.
She explained that farmers are the original conservationists, and EPA and farmers both have a common interest to protect natural resources.
The agency wants to develop a trusting relationship with the industry — one that allows farmers to bring their issues and data to EPA and know the agency is genuinely going to listen and consider their concerns, she said.
"The issues we're dealing with are too important to let history drive the outcome. Let's let science drive the outcomes and see how we can work together to solve these issues," McCarthy said.
This was the first time I heard McCarthy speak in person, and I felt like I was hearing most of the right things. She said she wants to listen, wants to work alongside farmers and wants everybody to just take a deep breath and read the rules before making rash assumptions.
Any farmer likely shares my hope that if EPA really could work alongside the agriculture industry, it would be the best for all involved. Many state EPAs do work hand-in-hand with local landowners and farmers to find workable, viable solutions to environmental concerns.
However, as Oklahoma pork and cattle producer Jason Hitch said after hearing McCarthy speak to members of the National Cattlemen's Beef Assn., he's not sold.
"I'm always suspicious when government comes and says they want to help you," Hitch warned.
In my conversation with Hitch, he really hit the nail on the head when he said it's hard for EPA to be a regulator and be a friend. "You can't tell them how to run their operation and cheer them on," he explained.
Hitch said McCarthy "talks a good game (by) repeating the same message that she's trying to help ag and provide clarity, but the proof is in the pudding."
So, if McCarthy wants to live up to the message she's preaching, the comment period on the waters of the U.S. rule couldn't be more important. During her discussion, she repeatedly said she wants to hear from stakeholders on how the rule will affect them.
She ended her discussion with how she would define success: "My interest is making sure we provide clarity in our rules, and I want to make sure people understand how we came out where we did and to respect that decision even if they disagree with it," she said. "I want to prove to people that EPA cares about the economy, the agricultural sector, industry sector jobs and that we can move forward and still meet environmental goals."
Here's hoping that she can hold true to her word and that it's not just another empty promise.