National Association of Conservation Districts expresses extreme concern about anti-farmer campaign to EPA Administrator McCarthy
On May 10, Lee McDaniel, President of the National Association of Conservation Districts wrote to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.
The letter expresses "extreme concern" over the EPA funding of the "What's Upstream Campaign," stating that "the campaign ignores collaborative, voluntary conservation work, is counterproductive to the work of farmers, and is an inaccurate portrayal of the success that has been realized through locally-led conservation efforts."
It goes on to state:
"Conservation districts, working in close partnership with other government partners, use EPA grant programs to support cooperative water quality activities. Districts use these grants to more effectively work with landowners to cooperatively and voluntarily improve water quality.
Conservation districts in the state of Washington and across the country are proud of the relationships that have been built with tribal communities. The Washington Association of Conservation Districts has created a Tribal Outreach Task Force for the sole purpose of establishing an avenue for the tribal communities to work directly with local conservation districts to promote voluntary conservation on the ground and regularly recognizes individual tribes and conservation districts who have worked together towards those efforts."
The nation's 3000 conservation districts are on the front line of environmental protection and conservation efforts. In Washington state, for example, farmers work with their local conservation district to access the best scientific knowledge and practices to farm responsibly. Through the conservation districts, family farmers in our state have created over 800 miles of buffer. This is only one of many ways farmers help protect our water and environment.
Read the entire letter on the EPA Funding Documents page.
This defense of the "What's Upstream" attack on farmers published on Salish Sea Communications comes from a respected environmentalist (and neighbor of this blogger who also lives on Padilla Bay). Pete Haase is well known and respected in the Pacific Northwest environmental community as evidenced by his award from Re-Sources.
Unfortunately, he is repeating some of the false accusations of the whatsupstream content providers. Mr Haase states: [the whatsupstream website] has a lot of information about water pollution caused by some agriculture-industry players because of minimal regulation or oversight. I say “minimal” because I am well aware of the extensive water pollution regulations and inspections that almost any other industry, port, or municipality is subjected to.
We certainly wouldn't question Mr. Haase's familiarity with pollution regulations applying to those other groups, but it appears he may not be fully informed of the very large number of regulations applying to agriculture. We invite him and others concerned about this to review our page on this called Farm Regulations Facts.
Mr. Haase states:
When herds of cattle graze in fields that border a stream or ditch, it is common practice to set the fence as close to the top of the bank as possible, without it falling in. Farmland is precious. Some places have hundreds of cattle loitering along those fences, rain or shine.
As I am a close neighbor I am probably seeing some of the same cows he is referring to. But it is not common practice to set the fence as close as possible to a bank. For dairy farmers the Dairy Nutrient Management Act specifies zero discharge and any discharge of manure to surface water can result in enforcement action. Buffers are a big part of that protection. Buffers are either required in counties such as Whatcom County through the Critical Areas Ordinance or applied as part of the Voluntary Stewardship Program. The guidelines followed by most farmers using this is very detailed. It would be good for those interested to learn more about buffers. Our page on that will show where the 800 miles of farmer-supported buffers are located. Mr Haase and others may be surprised to see that the average buffer size is 142 feet.
Perhaps the greatest scientific problem of the "research" that Mr Haase seems to trust and refers to dates back to the 1990s. This outdated research completely misses the mark in describing the current state of farmer stewardship of the environment. The 1998 Dairy Nutrient Management Act, for example, has been very successful in sharply reducing contributions from dairy farms as noted by the Lummi Nation in their 2008 Atlas.
We have every reason to believe that Mr Haase and other environmentalists like him are serious in their concern about the environment. This is why the whatsupstream, filled with false accusations, distortions and even embarrassing use of images such as the Amish cows and images of spawned salmon in juxtaposition to farming is doing such a disservice to the environmentalist cause. A closer look will show that farmers are recognizing that practices of the past have been damaging, change through regulation and proactive stewardship is making a tremendous difference and that our water quality problems and environmental issues affecting salmon, shellfish and water are far more complex than trying to place the blame on our family farmers.
This post from Western Growers Association in California, talking about a journalist-activist from the Los Angeles Times, is reminiscent of the anti-farm activists strategies we face here in Washington state. The growers object to columnist George Skelton writing in the Times and insisting on using the term "corporate agriculture."
That's what our critic at the Western Environmental Law Center and associated environmental groups are doing, notably on the Whatsupstream campaign. Note the use of the term "Industrial dairies" or "industrial agriculture." This is clearly intended to create a mental image of huge farms with fat cat owners running the machinery of creating farm produce including treating their animals like machines.
Farming isn't like that. There are big farms, yes, and lots of small farms. But in Washington state big and small are almost 100% family owned and run, many for multiple generations. Farmers understand better than ever that care of the land and care of their animals is essential to be able to pass the farm on to the next generation which is the goal of most farmers we know.
I'm certain that our critics do not like us insisting on using the term "family farmers." At least we have the facts behind us: our farms are owned by our state's farm families. To survive, they adopt efficient methods to produce their products, and agriculture over all is certainly a significant industry with a very large impact on our state's economy, jobs and particularly our local communities where most farms are found. But using the term "industrial agriculture" is a propaganda technique and needs to be recognized as such.
The Pacific Legal Foundation recently announced the legal victory over the EPA in a Wyoming stock pond case.
Why might this be of interest to farmers in Washington facing the EPA's illegal activity in their funding of the Whatsupstream campaign against farmers?
In the Wyoming case, the EPA sued a farmer for creating a stock pond which was both legal and provided numerous environmental benefits. But our own government in the EPA said he violated the Clean Water Act and that he must pay $37,500 per day for each day he refused to tear out the pond. The legal foundation reported:
For nearly two years, Andy tried to explain that he had done nothing wrong. But that was to no avail. Ultimately, he had to sue EPA, arguing that the order it had issued was illegal because “stock ponds,” like his, are expressly exempt from the Clean Water Act. Additionally, he challenged the government’s assertion of jurisdiction. Under Supreme Court precedent, the federal government can only regulate waters with a continuous surface water connection or that have a “significant nexus” to navigable waters. Andy Johnson’s pond drains to a man-made irrigation ditch, where the water is used for agriculture.
In other words, in trying to enforce something they had no jurisdiction over, they overstepped their bounds. For many, many farmers across the nation and certainly in Washington state, this story sounds familiar. They too have been victims of EPA's rough treatment and obvious lack of concern about following the law. It was interesting to hear the Senator Murray's office reported they received many, many complaints about treatment at the hands of the EPA.
This must be stopped. When federal agencies clearly demonstrate an attitude that says the laws of the land don't apply to them, when they clearly show favoritism to groups that pursue the most extreme agendas, when they force unreasonable agreements based on threats of huge penalties and legal fees to defend, our elected representatives must step in to help.
We are very grateful for both the Pacific Legal Foundation who assisted the Wyoming farmers, and also Representative Dan Newhouse who announced yesterday he co-sponsored legislation, aptly title the Regulatory Integrity Act, specific to reigning in this kind of behavior by the EPA.
We are grateful to Senator Murray and Kevin Stockert from her DC office for the response to our letter asking for support for farmers in the EPA and Whatsupstream issue.
Mr. Stockert assured us that Senator Murray is very familiar with the concerns of farmers and understands those concerns. He noted that there were several inquiries underway regarding the EPA funding of the Whatsupstream campaign against farmers and that the Senator would monitor these inquiries. These include an internal EPA investigation and an audit by the Office of Inspector General.
He also reiterated that Senator Murray has long been supportive of agriculture in our state and nation and considers it important to our state's economic future.
While we are appreciative of the response from Senator Murray, we have to express some disappointment that unlike many colleagues in the Senate and the House, Senator Murray is not expressing willingness to become directly involved in pursuing this issue with the EPA and administration. We would very much have liked to see a stronger expression of dismay over a clear violation of federal law by a government agency and a stronger commitment to follow up this concern with real action.
We also discussed with Mr. Stockert our concerns about the EPA's unfair treatment of groups in granting waivers for documents request fees. Mr. Stockert indicated that the Senator's office receives many complaints about EPA behavior and action. If this is the case, it provides even greater cause for the Senator to become directly involved in oversight over this federal agencies which seems to disregard law and fairness at nearly every turn.
With one third of Congress complaining about EPA's treatment of farmers and ranchers, no doubt some are seeing this as just an industry group whining. But, the list of groups the EPA granted fee waivers related to record searches show this isn't whining, but out and out favoritism. Look for yourself. If you are a member of groups such as Western Environmental Law Center (who paid less than $400 in fees for massive and on-going documents searches), Sierra Club, Earth Justice and others, you may cheer the bias shown. However, we ask: how would feel if the shoe were on the other foot? Hard to see that groups with a name that include "justice" would take any position other than against this injustice.
See the EPA list of waivers granted and denied here.
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