Every five years, the Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, is tasked with determining if the federal Clean Air Act needs to be changed. And every time it comes up for review, many of those living and working in farm country ask whether agriculture will be forced to conform to the same rules and regulations as industrial manufacturing operations.
This week, the Obama Administration's top personnel on Agriculture and the Environment toured several Midwest agricultural operations to learn about efforts to conserve natural resources, AND to dispel myths about EPA.
To allay fears big government is "out to get agriculture," EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson made her way to Iowa this week to reassure farmers and ranchers all the available information was being carefully considered.
Administrator Lisa Jackson, EPA: "We're not targeting agriculture to do it, we're simply saying lets find those places. And i've seen lots of them today where there are win-win solutions. Where you can do your business - small, medium, large - and we can also ensure that the air quality and the water quality are being protected. I've seen great examples of that. But, let me just say, again, EPA is not targeting agriculture. And rather than have someone else carry that message I'm gonna carry it out to agriculture myself wherever I can get there."
Administrator Jackson was accompanied by Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. Their tour of the Midwestern countryside included a stop at a livestock operation employing rotational grazing to control erosion and manure run-off.
Administrator Lisa Jackson EPA: "So even though you are using less of the land you can get more cattle because you have actually more for them to eat."
Monty Collins, Pleasantville, Iowa: "Besides being able to run more cattle and produce more beef, the cattle are healthier, I think. Nutritionally, they are better off."
The pair then traveled to a biodiesel plant where vegetable oils and animal fats are turned into 30 million gallons of biodiesel annually.
And despite the rainy weather, the pair of government officials finished the day at a 1600-acre row crop operation.
The tour was part of a Jackson's work to determine which regulations, if any, need to be changed.
Administrator Lisa Jackson EPA: "I think the real bridge that we need to make sure is built and sturdy is communication. You know, what happens is that people start to get worried about things that haven't happened yet and they are worried, you know, on both sides."
One of those worries in rural America focuses on the dust stirred-up during normal farming activities.
Many farmers and ranchers are concerned that EPA will tighten regulations for controlling fugitive dust which would increase their cost of doing business.
Administrator Lisa Jackson EPA: "Our staff, reviewed the scientists report, the outside scientists report, and are actually recommending something a bit different. They're recommending that the standards for dust could be retained where they are today or changed. And the final decision will be mine. As the administrator of the EPA the Clean Air Act says it is my decision to make a final recommendation for whether to change that standard."
Jackson says she will make her final decision on whether to implement any changes to the Clean Air Act in July.