A little more than a year into his tenure as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Scott Pruitt continues to work to make significant changes in the way the agency works with farmers and others it regulates.
After years of treating farmers as adversaries who need to be closely monitored and heavily regulated, the agency is working to be cooperative and build partnerships, Pruitt told Farm Bureau members of Iowa, Missouri, Ohio and Alabama last week during a speech in Washington.
The Trump administration’s EPA administrator said much of the change boils down to a difference in attitude. Instead of adversaries, the agency now looks at farmers as partners in the effort to be environmental stewards.
“To be leading the EPA and look at farmers and ranchers across this country as anything other than a partner and a friend is wrong-headed,” Pruitt said. “You are our first conservationists. You are our first environmentalists.”
The idea that Americans must choose between economic growth and environmental protection “is simply a false scenario,” Pruitt told Farm Bureau members.
“There are some that have preached a message over the past several years that, though we have been blessed with tremendous natural resources that can feed the world, we should keep those natural resources in the ground,” Pruitt said. “They want the government to put up fences and say do not touch. That is simply not the way to do business.”
Instead, the EPA administrator said. “We have an obligation to use those natural resources with stewardship for future generations.”
This new attitude, he said, is apparent in the way it has worked to rescind and rewrite the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule. The 2015 rule has been strongly opposed by the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation as well as other farm organizations because it would have created a huge regulatory burden for farmers, raised farmers’ costs and created widespread confusion and uncertainty.
“When you define the waters of the U.S. so broadly and stretch it so far, it is unrecognizable to what the writers of the Clean Water Act intended,” Pruitt said. “It would have affected every land decision in the country.”
The WOTUS rule, Pruitt said, will be replaced by the end of 2018 with one that works with, rather than against, farmers.
“In 2018, you are going to have a new definition of WOTUS that will respect private property owners, and it will respect the role of the states,” Pruitt said.
The EPA, the administrator said, has also ended the previous practice of sue and settle. That practice bypasses the agency’s rule-making process and ended up with decisions that typically favored environmental activists, he said.
“The rule-making process is good,” Pruitt said. “That’s because when we propose a rule, we hear from folks all over the country on how it will affect them. Then we inform ourselves about their perspective, and we make decisions based on that input. That’s how you build consensus. That is how you make wise decisions.”