Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy apologized to the National Corn Growers Association for the problems caused by the agency’s delays in issuing the volumetric requirements under the Renewable Fuel Standard and urged the farmers to read both the volumetric requirements proposal and the Clean Water Rule before reaching conclusions that neither one is good for agriculture.
NCGA has been highly critical of both the RFS and the Clean Water Rule, which EPA initially called the Waters of the United States rule.
“We know the delay last year in getting these [RFS] standards out was disruptive to say the least. I apologize for that,” McCarthy said in a speech to the Corn Congress at a Washington hotel.
She also noted that more than 200 farmers had come to a public meeting in Kansas City, Kansas, last month to give their comments on the volumetric requirements and said they should continue to comment until the comment period comes to an end on July 27.
“That way we’ll be able to base the final standards on all the best information and data available,” McCarthy said, noting that the agency is scheduled to finalize the volumetric requirements by November 30.
Corn growers have complained that EPA has lowered volumetric requirements for corn-based ethanol below those in the legislation Congress passed, but McCarthy said that the Obama administration is still committed to growing the industry.
McCarthy said “you might’ve heard we’re trying to shrink or kill this program. But the truth is, we’re committed to growing it. The volumes we’ve proposed for 2015 and 2016 are designed to bust through the blend wall.”
“Our proposed 2016 standard for total renewable fuel is about 1.5 billion gallons more — almost 10% higher — than the actual 2014 volumes,” she added. “And the proposed 2016 standard for cellulosic ethanol is six times higher than what the market produced in 2014. So EPA isn’t just promoting growth; we’re pushing the envelope.”
But when a farmer asked how EPA could cut the requirements below those in the legislation when it is committed to reducing carbon pollution, McCarthy said EPA had to deal with the fact that “the factors that underpin those projections may not have been the reality since [Congress] passed that law.”
McCarthy also insisted that the Clean Water Rule — previously known as the Waters of the United States rule — will not affect “everyday farming” and urged the farmers to read it carefully, as she has done.
When another farmer noted that under the Clean Water Rule “small drainage features” may come under regulation and said “every farmer has field with one of those small drainage features” and will need a permit to use pesticides, McCarthy said, “We need to talk more specifically about what is a small drainage feature.”
McCarthy said that if people have needed a permit before, they will still need one, but added, “I know you have to use pesticides. We did nothing to expand what was required before.”
Another farmer told McCarthy “you are the only one in your agency who is bringing any clarity” to the Clean Water Rule. He said that EPA field staff are not clear in saying what will come under the agency’s jurisdiction and what will not.
McCarthy acknowledged that EPA needs to train its field staff, but added that when EPA headquarters answers a question about the Clean Water Rule she wants it posted and suggested that NCGA could also help publicize these answers.
In an interview afterward, McCarthy said that even though EPA has been sued over the Clean Water Rule, she expects enforcement to begin on schedule on August 28. More than two dozen states have sued over the rule, as well as several major agricultural and business groups.
Before she spoke, NCGA President Chip Dowling asked the attendees to be courteous to McCarthy even though they had differences. When McCarthy began her speech, she noted that she was speaking to the group because “I asked Chip to share that message with his members, and he suggested I tell you myself.”
Near the beginning of her speech, McCarthy seemed to signal that the arguments EPA is an economic drag are overstated.
“In the 45 years since EPA’s founding, we’ve cleaned up 70% of our nation’s air pollution and hundreds of thousands of miles of waterways, and meanwhile our nation’s economy has tripled,” she noted.
McCarthy also starting off by using a line that all farm groups love to hear: that farmers are “the original conservationists.”
At the end of her formal remarks, McCarthy said, “I’d just like to wrap up by restating that at the end of the day, we all know the importance of healthy land and clean water. Our health, our food supply, and your livelihoods all depend on it. At EPA, we value what you do, and we take your input seriously.”
McCarthy told The Hagstrom Report she felt the corn growers had been “gracious” in receiving her.