March 03, 2024

Building relationships helps EPA understand farmer concerns

CHICAGO — The agricultural industry has a significant role in helping to meet the goals of the Environmental Protection Agency to protect public health and the environment.

“The challenges the agricultural sector is facing today including climate change, resiliency, and new and emerging contaminants are more than just a little complex,” said Debra Shore, EPA Region 5 administrator.

“To achieve real change, those of us at the federal level must listen to professionals like you who have on-the-ground knowledge of what communities are facing and what the need is to find solutions that work to protect our soil, water and air,” Shore said during a presentation at a Chicago Farmers meeting.

“EPA recognizes the importance of building relationships with agricultural communities across the country,” the administrator stated. “An addition of an agriculture adviser was created within the EPA administrator’s office more than 20 years ago to work across the agricultural community to provide advice and guidance to the EPA administrator.”

There are also regional agriculture advisers in each of the 10 EPA regional offices. “There is a clear need for people who understand key issues unique to geographic areas across the country who could build the relationships necessary to learn about farmer concerns and to get feedback on how EPA policies were playing on the ground,” Shore said.

“We recognize as an agency the critical role agriculture plays in everything needed to sustain our country, economy and everyday lives,” the speaker stated. “Agriculture in the Midwest uses approximately two-thirds of the land area and produces more than half of the nation’s corn and soybeans.”

Two top priorities for EPA, Shore said, are environmental justice and climate change. “They are closely intertwined when it comes to agriculture,” she added. “Often, rural communities with less access to public services and resources are more susceptible to extreme weather events that we’re now seeing as symptoms of climate change.”

In the Upper Midwest and through the Great Lakes region, the administrator said, there are changes in seasonal temperatures and more extreme weather events. “So there is no time to waste to address threats in climate change,” she added.

As a result, the agency rechartered the Farm, Ranch and Rural Communities Federal Advisory Committee, which provides advice and recommendations to the agency on environmental issues important to agricultural and rural communities.

The committee includes three members representing Region 5. “For the next two years, this committee will consider how EPA tools and programs can best advance the agricultural sector’s climate mitigation and adoption goals by identifying voluntary incentive-based opportunities, public/private partnerships and market-based approaches,” Shore explained.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law includes $50 billion to the EPA over five years for water and waste water infrastructure. “This is the largest single federal investment in the water sector in history,” the administrator said. “These funds are necessary to modernize and upgrade existing systems and design and plan for a changing future.”

Pesticides are important tools used across the region, Shore said, and it is vital to ensure they can be used effectively while protecting the environment. “I understand the importance of farmers having tools to produce an uninterrupted supply of commodities,” she stressed.

“No farmer should wake up one day in the middle of a growing season and hear a court has taken away a tool he needs to put food on tables across America,” the speaker said. “We’re trying to put EPA back in the driver’s seat because right now the courts are running the show.”

PFAs are widely used, long-lasting chemicals found in many different consumer, commercial and industrial products. “PFAs are one of the biggest challenges looming for us as an agency and nation,” Shore reported. “EPA has been working to address this issue through sound science.”

Since PFAs contamination presents a unique problem for farmers, the EPA is working closely with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and state agency partners.

“Our focus is on holding accountable those upstream polluters that manufacture and release significant amounts of PFAs in the environment,” Shore stated. “Our goal is to get ahead of the problem and stop the release of PFAs in the environment.”

With advances in technology, the administrator said, the agency is seeing how widespread PFAs contamination is across the country in water systems, air and even in livestock.

“EPA has been working through a PFAs strategic roadmap,” she explained. “The agency proposed designating two of the most widely used PFAs chemicals as hazardous substances and we’re currently reviewing 64,000 comments.”

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provides $10 billion dedicated to addressing PFAs and emerging contaminants in water.

“The time to think big is now and it’s an exciting time for environmental innovation in this country,” Shore stated. “New technologies are hitting the market at a never before seen pace and science is continuing to push the boundaries of our knowledge so we can make better, more informed choices.”

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Martha Blum

Martha Blum

Field Editor