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Head of EPA promises agency will return to basics

EPA administrator Scott Pruitt and farmer Mike Starkey
ON THE FARM: EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt (left) visited Mike Starkey and other farmers and ag leaders on Starkey’s Indiana farm as part of a multiple-week tour recently.
Scott Pruitt tells farmers he will guide EPA back to following its original mission.

By Tom J. Bechman

Scott Pruitt is the 14th administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. He may be the first to talk shop with a farmer on the farmer’s farm while looking at a state-of-the-art no-till planter hooked to a state-of-the-art tractor. Pruitt listened intently as Mike Starkey, Brownsburg, Ind., gave him a brief overview of what new technology allows him to do with his planter.

Pruitt visited Starkey as part of a multiple-week tour featuring listening sessions with farmers and key ag leaders, plus an opportunity for Pruitt to discuss his goals for EPA for the future. He laid out his views in a brief meeting with ag press inside Starkey’s office.

Pruitt has stated in previous weeks that he intends to guide EPA in returning to its original mission and core basics. What does that mean in practical terms?

Return to basics
“We recognize that the agricultural industry and farmers and ranchers were among the first to care about the environment,” Pruitt said. “Farmers care about the water they drink and the air which they breathe.”

He acknowledged that over the past few years, many in agriculture often viewed EPA as an adversary, not a partner. It also seemed as if EPA viewed agriculture in the same light.

“Part of what we need to do going forward is work together,” Pruitt said. That includes working with not only ag interests, but also state governments and state agencies to protect the environment while allowing farmers and ranchers to do what they know how to do better than anyone else.

“Over the past few weeks, I’ve met with farmers in Utah, which is the second-driest state in the U.S.; farmers in Minnesota, where water is obviously more plentiful; and now farmers in Indiana,” he said. “Various parts of our country are very different, but people everywhere are seeking the same thing.”

That includes regulations that are fair and reasonable, not burdensome and overly restrictive, he assured.

New direction
One issue that always comes up when Pruitt visits farmers is the Waters of the United States rule that EPA issued in 2015, and was later stayed by the courts. Earlier this year, President Donald Trump announced EPA would be moving away from that rule. Pruitt explained that after researching the situation, a new rule will be proposed that clarifies what “waters of the U.S.” are today.

“We have lacked clarity in defining what the waters of the U.S. are in the past,” he said. “The way that EPA set out to enforce the rule in the past was inconsistent.”

A dry pond in one state, a very small stream in another, and an impoundment built by a farmer on purpose in yet another state all could have possibly fallen under regulation under the previous rule, Pruitt noted. That won’t be the case moving forward, he said. Look for new language to be tied much closer to regulating navigable waters, not mud puddles in a farmer’s field.

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