Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson testified before the Senate Agriculture Committee on Thursday and gave an update on the long awaited decision on the waiver request filed 18 months ago to allow a 15% blend of ethanol in gasoline. She says that several tests conducted by the Department of Energy have been concluded and a partial decision on raising the blend wall above 10% could happen within the next three weeks.
"I am optimistic having seen the results so far for 2007 and newer vehicles," Jackson said. "We are awaiting one last set of results, they are teardown test results, I talked to Secretary Chu yesterday and he confirmed that he intends to get us those results by Sept. 30. Given that we are prepared to render our waiver decision within two weeks following receipt of those tests."
However that decision would only apply to vehicles from 2007 and later. Jackson says further decisions about expanding the waiver would have to wait on more car and engine tests.
The primary focus of Thursday's hearing was to examine the impact of the EPA's regulation on farmers and ranchers. Senate Agriculture Chairman Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., was particularly interested in EPA's development of Clean Water Act permit requirements for pesticide applications.
"What is most frustrating to me is that pesticide applications will be unnecessarily regulated twice; once under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act and again under the Clean Water Act," Lincoln said. "I firmly believe that as long as a FIFRA-registered product is applied in accordance with its label and any other conditions, then we shouldn't be requiring unnecessary, duplicative regulatory burdens."
Lincoln went on to say that farmers and ranchers are increasingly frustrated by vague, overreaching and unnecessarily burdensome EPA regulations and that farmers face enough unknowns without regulatory uncertainty. Senate Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., echoed Lincoln's concerns saying that the concerns with the EPA are really serious for rural America.
"The U.S. agriculture sector is improving and exports are growing,” Chambliss said. "The question we then ask is what impact EPA’s regulatory plans will have on future opportunities for growth. Given the regulatory issues before us, I believe the EPA’s plans will hinder growth in agriculture and rural America."
Jackson responded that she plans to communicate with farmers and the agricultural community before making key decisions.
"I have asked my staff to initiate two important discussions with agriculture stakeholders," Jackson said. "First, I'm asking our Office of Air and Radiation to carry out an extensive effort to solicit information about the issues associated with the dust issue and its implication for rural communities and agriculture before we make any proposals on this issue. Second, I'm asking our Office of Enforcement and Compliance to convene a discussion with agricultural and other stakeholders to foster better understanding and communications around EPA's enforcement operations and to discuss options for increasing the ability of agriculture to protect the environment. By providing these opportunities I hope to demonstrate EPA's commitment to engaging directly with the agriculture in rural communities."
Chambliss cited the fact that the world will need to produce 70% more food to feed an additional 2.3 billion people by 2050 and questioned whether anyone has made the connection between the central role that America must play to solve this challenge.
"No one disputes the need or desire for clean air and water, bountiful habitat and healthy landscapes," Chambliss said. "But at some point, which I believe we are getting dangerously close to, regulatory burdens on farmers and ranchers will hinder rather than help them become better stewards of the land and more bountiful producers of food, fiber and fuel."