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Wheeler: EPA doesn't want adversarial relationship with farmers

Andrew Wheeler sees different EPA relationship with farmers than in past.

Farmers have always considered themselves good environmental stewards, but they haven’t always felt valued by the powers that be in Washington for their contributions. At Jay Adcock’s farm in Fuquay Varina, N.C. Aug. 25 they received some encouragement from EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler.

Wheeler was on the Adcock farm for the signing of a memorandum of understanding by EPA Region 4 Administrator Mary S. Walker and North Carolina Commissioner of Agriculture Steve Troxler. The memorandum of understanding between EPA and the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services forms a collaborative effort between the two agencies to foster communication, education and outreach and recognizes the environmental stewardship of farmers.

Highlights in the Memorandum of Understanding  include:

• Hosting Agriculture Roundtables and/or Educational Farm Tours to foster a dialogue between EPA and the agricultural community on the successes, challenges, and opportunities to work together to achieve well-managed, productive farms and a clean environment; 

• Participating in agricultural events such as state fairs, farm shows, and technical field days to expand open discussion between EPA and the agricultural community;

• Recognizing farmers for their environmental stewardship and conservation efforts that contribute to efficient farms, healthy soils, and clean water.

In his comments at the signing ceremony, Wheeler said, “I believe we have a good relationship with the  farmers today, and I believe it’s a different relationship than you all have been used to in the past, and I really hope that this is a permanent change in the way the EPA works with the farm community.”

Wheeler emphasized that EPA does not want to have an adversarial relationship with farmers.

“You all are the stewards of the land; you are the first stewards of the land. And I know you want to protect the land for the future generations of farmers and for the future of our country,” he said.

Wheeler noted that as of last year air pollution is down sevsn percent. He said farmers should take credit for it “because a lot of it is the practices that you are doing.” He also noted that our water is at the cleanest levels they have ever been.

Wheeler said EPA listened to farmers and ranchers when the Navigable Waters Protection rule was implemented in April. The new rule replaces the Waters of the U.S. rule from the Obama administration. Wheeler said the new rule provides more certainty to landowners and farmers to what is a navigable water.

“Since the Clean Water Act was passed in the 1970s, the Supreme Court expanded the federal jurisdiction. The original Clean Water Act just had the definition navigable waters and that has been expanded over the years by the Supreme Court,” Wheeler said.

“I believe our final rule makes it very clear in addition to defining what is a navigable water, we also define what is not a navigable water. What is no longer considered a navigable water is most roadside and farm ditches. Farm and stock water ponds are not considered Waters of the U.S. anymore. And prior converted cropland is no longer considered a water of the U.S.,” he said.

The change in policy was welcomed and celebrated by farm groups and farmers from across the nation when it was announced in April. More importantly, farmers are celebrating that EPA now values the contributions they make to clean air, clean water and an improved environment.

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