It’s not every day that the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency visits your state. Scott Pruitt has visited Indiana twice since being confirmed as EPA head by the U.S. Senate earlier this year. Gov. Eric Holcomb has accompanied him on both visits.
The first time was to address environmental cleanup efforts near East Chicago. Recently, Pruitt returned and visited the farm of Mike Starkey, a no-tiller and cover crop enthusiast, near Brownsburg. Holcomb again accompanied him, along with Lt. Gov. and Indiana Secretary of Agriculture Suzanne Crouch. The reason for the visit to Starkey’s farm was to reaffirm EPA’s commitment to reassessing ag issues — particularly the Waters of the U.S. rule — and to signify that EPA and Indiana intend to partner as much as possible going forward.
“Gov. Holcomb worked together with us on the situation in East Chicago, and we’re working together on this one, as well,” Pruitt says. “We greatly appreciate Gov. Holcomb’s cooperation.”
The EPA under the previous administration issued the WOTUS rule in 2015. Then 31 states sought to block it, and it was sidelined by a court stay. A few weeks ago, President Donald Trump announced that EPA would abandon the rule and propose a new one instead. It was hailed as a victory for ag groups, including Indiana Farm Bureau, that fought long and hard to prevent the rule from moving forward during its comment phase.
“The rule was simply a power grab,” Pruitt says. There was no clarity or consistency across the country as to what qualified as a “water of the U.S.” and what didn’t qualify, he adds.
“The first thing we needed to do was withdraw the bad rule, and we’re doing that now,” Pruitt says. “The second thing we’re doing is developing a new rule that clearly defines the term ‘water of the U.S.’
“We will focus heavily on the idea that regulations should apply to navigable waters. There are court cases, even a Supreme Court case, that support this definition.”
Pruitt adds, “Farmers want certainty when it comes to this issue. We’re going to clarify the definition.”
“We were honored to have Scott Pruitt back in Indiana for the second time this year,” Holcomb says. “It indicates that we have started working on a partnership, and we want that to continue.
“We appreciate the opportunity for our people in this field to give input to EPA on a day-to-day basis. Our goal is to continue working together.”
Pruitt shares the same goal. His hope is to develop that kind of relationship with states across the country. “We want to empower people in agencies at the state level by working with them, and by showing that we trust them,” Pruitt emphasizes. “Viewing states as partners and demonstrating trust is all about adopting a new attitude.”
In the past there wasn’t much effort to work together, Pruitt adds. He says EPA and its Indiana counterparts will work more closely in the future.