EPA secretary lists 'myths' in farm/agency conflicts

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been unfairly maligned as an enemy of agriculture because of a collection of myths, says Lisa P. Jackson, administrator of the agency.

Lisa P. Jackson
Lisa P. Jackson, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Pollution Agency in Washington, says her agency suffers from agricultural myths. Here, she speaks to the group, as Jerry Hagstrom, an Agweek correspondent, listens. (Mikkel Pates / Agweek)

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been unfairly maligned as an enemy of agriculture because of a collection of myths, says Lisa P. Jackson, administrator of the agency.

Jacksonl, who spoke April 12 at the North American Agricultural Journalism annual meeting in Washington, says she recently traveled to look at California agriculture near Fresno and was impressed about how much farmers already are doing as stewards of land and water. She plans to go next to Iowa, where she'll work to debunk a set of "myths" that have plagued the agency.

Earlier in the day, Jackson and the EPA were defended by Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, who says excessive EPA regulations of farm dust are "not true." But Sen. Patrick Leahy, R-Kan., minority leader in the Senate Agriculture Committee, says the EPA is overreaching in agriculture.

Jackson says she's heard the attacks and calls them myths. Among her list of myths:

- The "cow tax." "There's never been plans, not by me, certainly not by anyone in this administration, to tax cows as a way to deal with the fact that they certainly have a contribution to greenhouse gas," Jackson says.


She says it's one of the Beltway issues where "someone makes up a horrible, horrible story (about what's going to happen) and then gets paid a whole lot of money to make sure that it doesn't happen. That's my brief summary of lobbying today."

- Dust regulation. Dust is a regulated "conventional pollutant" under the Clean Air Act. The EPA regulates "particulate matter," or dust particles in the air, especially tiny particles that can affect lung disease and contribute to heart disease. The Clean Air Act requires the agency to look at the standards every five years and determine if they should be changed, raised or lowered. A scientific board has reviewed the matter of dust and has (PM-10, of a size of 10 microns or higher) and has recommended lowering the current standard. The EPA staff subsequently recommended either retaining the current standards or lowering the tolerated amounts.

"Sometime between now and the summer, I expect to make a decision and put it out for public comment," she says.

The EPA has held five of a series of "listening sessions in rural America," in preparation for the decision. She says some in agriculture incorrectly imply that the EPA is here, inside this building, making decisions about dust regulations that would be totally unimplementable and -- in some cases -- nonsense."

- Spray drift. "There are allegations out there that this agency has a 'no spray drift' policy," she says.

She says that would be like saying "we can never have an accident."

The agency is looking at a label revision to clarify that there is no such policy and won't be one.

- Milk as a pollutant. The Spill Prevention Abatement and Counter-measures law requires that the EPA regulate containers. The law typically is applied to large containers that include petroleum-type oil and makes sure there is secondary containment to protect waters. The law also applies to such things as animal fats, and so, "if you have a large container of milk, could in fact regulate milk the same way as you regulate other oils."


Jackson says the myths are a problem because they "distract us from the real work we should be doing," of "very real environmental concerns that impact American people but that touch agriculture." Myths "tend to be born from and breed a culture of distrust." She says the agency must protect air and water quality" in a way that "farmers and ranchers are able to do their jobs."

Jackson was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in New Orleans and was chief of staff to a New Jersey governor before coming to the EPA. She is a chemical engineer.

Mikkel Pates is an agricultural journalist, creating print, online and television stories for Agweek magazine and Agweek TV.
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