by Todd Neeley, DTN Staff Reporter
OMAHA (DTN) — EPA raised the hackles of U.S. agriculture this year when the agency issued a guidance document in April for field inspectors to make determinations on the definition of waters of the U.S. in the Clean Water Act.
Ag groups and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said the guidance document would expand the number of water bodies subject to the act, increasingly leaving questions of science up to individual inspectors. This raises a fundamental question about EPA: Does the agency do enough to develop the science it uses to draft and enforce regulations?
Rod Snyder, public policy director for the National Corn Growers Association, said it would have made more sense for EPA to undertake a rule-making process to expand CWA authority instead. This would have subjected the process to scientific scrutiny.
“That is more transparent,” he said. “It is a very important area that we said should require the full attention of EPA. This (guidance document) is more a question of policy. Where are they drawing the line? What waters are in and what waters are out?”
EPA’s use of science is the subject of a new congressional inquiry. Some agriculture industry groups and others question whether the agency is relying more on court-driven policy and less on science to enforce environmental regulations. This recently was focused on in congressional hearings.
EPA CHANGES NEEDED
This isn’t the first time the EPA and how it uses science have been under scrutiny.
EPA has taken little action on five independent evaluations completed on the agency’s science program in the past 20 years, Government Accountability Office representative David C. Trimble told the House subcommittee on energy and the environment in his Nov. 17 testimony.
Paul Schlegel, director of public policy for the American Farm Bureau Federation told DTN in an interview that there is ongoing concern the agency will continue to rely on lawsuits from environmental groups instead of science to enforce regulations.
Lawsuits have led EPA to set numeric criteria in Florida to reduce nutrients runoff, although state officials oppose a one-size-fits-all approach. A legal settlement between the agency and environmental groups led to the creation of the total maximum daily load, or TMDL, designed to reduce nutrients runoff into the Chesapeake Bay.
Ag groups have said science had little to do with those actions.
The EPA should use science to create an “incentive-based approach” to environmental regulations instead of enforcement, Schlegel said. This could include providing funds for expanded conservation efforts, for example.
“You can argue over policy, but the science has to be valid,” Schlegel said.
For example, many agriculture groups are concerned that EPA will at some point crack down harder on dust from farms by tightening National Ambient Air Quality, or NAAQ, standards in the Clean Air Act. Available science brings into question the level of health benefits from reducing particulate matter.
EPA has said it does not regulate farm dust and doesn’t intend to do so, some lawmakers have said the concerns are mythical. Some farmers in Arizona and California, however, live in non-attainment areas and are required to reduce dust on their farms.
Chandler Goule, vice president of government relations for the National Farmers Union, said all sides need to get beyond rhetoric.
“The EPA has repeatedly said and written that it has no intention of regulating dust,” Goule said. “Certain agricultural organizations are politicizing this issue for personal gain. This distorts the issue and confuses producers.”
Susan E. Dudley, director of George Washington University Regulatory Studies Center and a research professor in the Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration, said in her written testimony to the House subcommittee Nov. 30 that the steps taken to develop NAAQ standards have evolved into an “adversarial process, characterized by harsh rhetoric.”
All sides claim “science supports its recommended policy outcome and questions opponents’ credibility and motives,” Dudley said. Instead, she said the system should include “constructive discussion” about “appropriate assumptions and data and the reasonableness of the statutory goal.”
EPA PROCESS EXAMINED
Gary E. Marchant, director of the Center for Law, Science and Innovation at Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, told the House committee during a Nov. 30 hearing that EPA’s regulatory process isn’t necessarily a good way to develop and evaluate science.
“EPA necessarily and appropriately makes decisions that are based on a messy mix of politics, policy, economics, law, interests and values, with a clear and important institutional mission to protect the environment and human health,” he said.
There is a flipside to criticisms of EPA: Not all EPA science efforts have been met with a firestorm from farm groups.
Last January, the Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit against EPA, trying to force the agency to review the effects that hundreds of pesticides have on hundreds of endangered species. The suit has the potential to affect the use of many pesticides across the country.
NCGA’s Snyder said his group intervened in the case on EPA’s behalf, because it is the one area of science where the agency has it right.
“Quite strongly, EPA’s pesticides programs have the best science on pesticides’ effects in the world,” he said. “It is a good example of where best science is put to use. As that case plays out in the coming months, our message is EPA knows what it’s doing.”
A. Alan Moghissi, president of the Institute for Regulatory Science, said an independent body should be created to focus solely on developing good science and to convey the state of that science to the public.
Kenneth P. Green, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, said in his Nov. 30 testimony to Congress that the way EPA uses science can be costly because it “systematically overestimates the risks humans face from environmental exposures to pollutants such as particulate matter.”
Green added, “Combine this with under-estimated compliance and regulatory costs, EPA’s use of science leads to inefficient use of scarce public resources and imposes regulatory burdens that may well do more harm than good. To me, this is the core of EPA’s science-policy problem, and is probably where any reform efforts should begin.”
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Posted with DTN Permission by Haylie Shipp