If there was a common theme among House Agriculture Committee members in their questioning of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Gina McCarthy, it's that there is a lot left to do to for EPA to regain farmers' trust.
In his opening statement of a hearing Thursday, House Agriculture Committee chairman Michael Conaway (R., Texas) said, “Farmers and ranchers believe the EPA is attacking them.”
I can’t say the statement is that far off. Those “attacks” include the waters of the U.S. rule, proposed changes to the ozone standard, recently modified standards for farm workers, pesticide approvals, the renewable fuel standard and more.
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Nearly two years ago, I recall hearing McCarthy try to defend her agency’s actions when it comes to the waters of the U.S. rule. She was continually assuring agricultural groups that she was on their side and that her goal was to work together.
Two years ago, McCarthy said she would define success by providing clarity and coming together on a compromise. “My interest is making sure we provide clarity in our rules, and I want to make sure people understand where we came out where we did and to respect that decision, even if they disagree with it,” she said at the time. "I want to prove to people EPA cares about the economy, the agricultural sector, industry sector, jobs and that we can move forward and still meet environmental goals.”
But as the House Agriculture Committee grilled McCarthy, a common theme was the differences that exist not only on opinions but also what authorities Congress has granted EPA and even differences in sciences accepted.
Rep. Mike Rogers (R., Ala.) asked McCarthy if she’s aware of concerns farmers have raised and the rocky relationship that exists between EPA and farmers. McCarthy said she is aware and knows there’s a lot of work to “establish a stronger, trustful relationship with EPA” and that, as administrator, EPA has arranged meetings with many from the agricultural community who want to sit down and try to work through issues, listen closely and learn.
“The most important thing we can do is listen to one another and try to identify the path forward that meets our shared goals, because we certainly share goals of wanting to protect the environment,” she said.
Rogers responded that listening is a good first step but said McCarthy must also be prepared to act — and "it may be acting in a different way.”
She’s saying the right things, just not putting the right actions in place. With 32 states suing her agency of the waters of the U.S. rule and nearly every agricultural group and members from both side of the aisle asking for a withdrawal of the rule, one wonders if the ongoing lip service from McCarthy can make any headway in this fight.