Shore Outlines EPA Priorities Affecting Agriculture
Originally printed on FarmWeek Now.com
Addressing climate change, upgrading infrastructure, revising the definition of the “waters of the United States” (WOTUS), and expanding the use of biofuels are all top priorities for the leader of the Midwest headquarters of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Debra Shore, who President Joe Biden and EPA Administrator Michael Regan appointed last fall to head EPA Region 5, outlined those issues during the Illinois Farm Bureau’s Agriculture Legislative Roundtable. Shore is a former Metropolitan Water Reclamation District Commissioner with whom Cook County Farm Bureau has developed a strong and ongoing relationship.
She also explained her commitment to keep open the lines of communication with Illinois Farm Bureau (IFB) and farmers throughout the state.
“I look forward to working with you, to learning from you, to visiting farms and facilities, and assisting you with your priorities and challenges in the coming years,” Shore said.
Climate change, Shore said, is already affecting the health, safety, and economic well-being of communities across the U.S., with the Midwest experiencing “unstable weather patterns,” including periods of more intense and less predictable rain events alongside longer periods of drought.
Those storms and floods overwhelm municipal infrastructure, cause property damage, and diminish agricultural productivity and impact food supply chains, Shore said.
“The fact is there’s no small town, big city, suburban or rural community that’s not affected by climate change; our rural, underserved and poor communities feel the effects that much more,” Shore said. “We must act with as much urgency as we can muster to mitigate climate change, while simultaneously preparing for its impacts across rural, urban, and tribal areas.”
Part of that solution includes rehabilitating the nation’s aging infrastructure, Shore said, pointing to the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act. It includes $43.5 billion over the next five years for EPA’s State Revolving Fund, which funds water quality and nutrient reduction projects.
“But as important as funding is, we need partners to help execute conservation projects,” Shore said. “Conservation practices employed by farmers are especially important in managing nutrient loads.”
Shore further explained that Regan is “committed to developing a durable definition of (WOTUS) that prioritizes implementation, protects our vital water resources, and ultimately withstands the test of time.”
The agency in fall 2021 formally proposed to repeal the 2020 Navigable Waters Protection Rule, re-establish the definition of WOTUS to what was in place from 1986 to 2015, and broaden the federal government’s authority under the Clean Waters Act.
Shore said comments from IFB and others in the ag sector are “crucial” to developing the new definition, reiterating that the proposed rule retains agricultural exemptions like prior converted cropland.
On biofuels, Shore said EPA’s Renewable Fuel Standards proposal “reflects the Biden administration’s commitment to reset and strengthen the RFS program following years of mismanagement by the last administration, and to address challenges in the fuels market stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The administration proposes to reduce the number of biofuels refiners must blend into conventional fuels in 2021, retroactively cut 2020’s totals, and boost 2022 targets.
The proposal also features changes to the small refinery exemptions, including a proposal to deny all 65 pending applications for the exemptions, which Shore said represents “steps to solidify the foundation of the program for future growth.”
Shore also touched on changes around federal pesticide policies, explaining EPA will develop “more flexible ways to mitigate pesticide impacts to threatened and endangered species.”
The agency plans to develop a pilot project with grower groups to demonstrate the changes, Shore said.
“We will work closely with you on these and any other developments to ensure that we understand the impacts of any changes to the farming community,” Shore said.