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Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, Remarks to the Farm, Ranch and Rural Communities Federal Advisory Committee, As Prepared

09/30/2010
As prepared for delivery.

Welcome to this gathering of the Farm Ranch and Rural Communities Committee. It is my pleasure to be here with you for the first meeting of this group since we took office. I thank you for your willingness to serve on this committee and bring your experience and expertise to us.

We are embarking on a new level of engagement with the agricultural community. We know that rural communities and local farmers were hit as hard, if not harder, than everyone else in the economic downturn two years ago. Right now we’re working to make every community – whether it’s urban, suburban or rural – more economically resilient and more environmentally sustainable.

Because of the broad impact that America’s farmers have on everything from daily food prices to widespread environmental impacts to emerging fuel technologies, we need them to be part of our decision making process. We want to be sensitive about the slim margins on which farmers operate, their frequent inability to pass along the costs of environmental improvements, and their vulnerability in a difficult economy.

Those interactions are off to a strong start. My team and I have had extensive conversations with farmers and others in the agriculture community. I’ve co-hosted joint public meetings with Secretary Vilsack, at which we met with producers and their representatives from the commodity, livestock and specialty crop sectors. In my time at EPA, we’ve invested some $190 million in grants and direct support for critical agricultural projects across the country. And in just the last month I’ve been to Americus, Georgia to speak face-to-face with farmers there about EPA’s activities, and I’ve been to the Senate Agricultural Committee to have similar conversations.

With this committee we have another important opportunity for public discourse and interchange on these issues. With your help we will benefit from the input of people engaged in agriculture from universities, conservation organizations, NGO’s, state and local government and industry. The diversity of your perspectives and experiences make sure that EPA is getting the widest range of ideas and advice from this committee.

There may be no part of the economy that affects us so immediately and in so many “every day” ways more than agriculture. EPA’s interactions with agriculture are broad – on air, water, pesticides, solid waste – and we have a unique and important working relationship with USDA on everything from biofuels to pesticides. The agriculture community should be credited with taking significant steps to protect the environment while finding innovative ways to feed millions. Whenever we hear from farmers about their concerns over regulations or other issues, they also express their willingness to engage with us on environmental challenges. I understand that the primary focus of your deliberations will be on most effective approaches for dealing with water quality issues related to agricultural production. Our extremely capable Deputy Administrator, Bob Perciasepe, will be leading off your discussion on water issues today, and I’m sure it will be a productive session.

Water issues are among the most critical issues with which we deal and among the most important and personally felt environmental concerns for the American people. And of course we know that farmers count on abundant, clean water to raise their crops and livestock, to process their products. While concerns about surface waters and groundwater have been identified across the country, we have also seen that the agriculture community can make significant strides in protecting water resources. Farmers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed have made many of the most substantial contributions to reducing pollution in the Bay.

In my view agriculture presents some of our best chances for improving water quality in the months and years to come. We have proven technologies and conservation practices that can reduce water quality concerns – from cover crops and fertilizer application methods to integrated pest management. Our challenge is to effectively assist farmers in implementing them widely enough in the most important places. We have a strong foundation of infrastructure through USDA and state programs to deliver both technical and financial assistance to increase adoption. We currently have resources to support the efforts of farmers through USDA’s EQIP and other conservation programs, and at EPA in our Puget Sound and Great Lakes Initiatives. And we have farmers and their communities who have shown, in one rural area after another, the ability to take action to protect water quality and other resources on which they and their families depend.

So we have an extraordinary opportunity right now to work with the agriculture community. We’re looking to you to provide advice to us on the programs and policies that will empower farmers and communities, encourage collaboration and support the best actions in the long run. As I said to the Senate Agriculture Committee last week, if there is one message I want to leave you with today, it is that I believe the most effective course for protecting our environment is an active partnership of EPA and USDA with the initiative of farmers and their communities.

I am encouraged by my conversations with farmers that there is a path forward on the issues ahead of us. Just as important, those conversations reinforced my belief that a healthy farm economy and a healthy environment can and should go hand in hand. Again thank you for your willingness to serve this your country in this Committee and for your willingness to advise this Administration as it grapples with the important and increasingly complex challenges we face.