EPA needs science integrity, yes, but…

Earlier this year, when Lisa Jackson was leaving her post as administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, she rued the fact that she was out of touch with rural America.

“If I were starting again, I would, from Day One, make a much stronger effort to do personal outreach in rural America,” she told a Reuters reporter.

That would’ve help combat what she called “mischaracterizations” about EPA’s work and its impact on agriculture.

Too bad that was a lesson she learned on her way out the door.

Much of the farming community has a hate-hate relationship with the EPA, or should I say the regulatory reach of the EPA. Like federal nutrient standards for individual states (proposed in Florida), point-source pollution regs, or the W.Va. livestock farm stormwater edict that was recently shot down in court.

In fact, the rocky relationship came up at the confirmation hearing of Jackson’s successor, Gina McCarthy, when U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., said, “Farmers and ranchers have become increasingly frustrated with a bureaucracy that doesn’t seem to understand the nature of our business.”

Bingo.

McCarthy comes to the top spot from her previous position as assistant administrator in charge of air quality programs. Let’s hope she listened to both Sen. Fischer and Jackson, and surrounds herself with some solid ag advisers.

The frustration for most small businesses like farms is the murky cost-benefit ratios, particularly when costs (to farmers) are underestimated or ignored.

I was reminded of Jackson’s comments last week when I read McCarthy had appointed a new scientific integrity official.

“Science is, and continues, to be the backbone of this agency and the integrity of our science is central to the identity and credibility of our work,” McCarthy said in the news release.

Sounds good, I thought. Scientific integrity. Then I read the new appointee, Dr. Francesca Grifo, comes to the EPA from the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Great. The Union of Concerned Scientists, like the group Physicians for Responsible Medicine, are nonprofit groups whose names lead us to believe they’re science-based, when, in reality, they’re adept at using science or polls to push an agenda.

In the case of the Union of Concerned Scientists, the group supports a strict environmental platform, a U.S. food/farm policy that favors fruits and vegetables, and not meat or grain, and disavows biotech food crops.

And this is our source of the EPA’s new scientific integrity?

I know every side of every issue spins science and facts to support a certain view. And I could find examples where agriculture has been guilty as well.

We need science. We need more science. We need innovation. And we need an informed public to engage in reasoned debate.

Therein lies the rub: The National Science Board reported in 2010 that only 73 percent of U.S. adults were able to answer correctly that the earth revolves around the sun. And we (me included) think we know science?

I’d love to see a consortium of public and private university scientists take the lead on communicating science — what we know and what we don’t know.

When there’s a void, someone will fill the gap, but it might be the Union of Concerned Scientists.

It’s interesting that the new EPA scientific integrity czar has spent a lifetime espousing the separation of politics and science-based policy. And she’s coming into an agency with what some would argue a predisposition for regulatory overreach and a politicization of the regulatory process.

Perhaps McCarthy and Grifo could take that swing through rural America that Jackson wishes she had made, and see agriculture — environmental science in action.

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By Susan Crowell

You can also find her on Google+ and Facebook.

About the Author

Farm and Dairy Editor Susan Crowell has been with the paper since 1985, serving as its editor since 1989. Raised on a farm in Holmes County, she is a graduate of Kent State University.You can follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/scrowell and follow Farm and Dairy at http://twitter.com/farmanddairy. You can also find her on Google+ and Facebook. More Stories by Susan Crowell

One Comment

  1. Ken Glick says:

    I know that it wasn’t the intent of this post to shine light into the hypocrisy of the Union of Concerned Scientists, but I’m glad you did because I used to consider them a relatively unbiased source on anything scientific but now I see that they’re simply just another group with a political agenda.

    However, I don’t think you should be so quick to bemoan the regulatory aspects of the EPA as theirs is the job of protecting the environment, not farmers, ranchers or any other business for that matter. That’s why we have the legislative branch of government to, hopefully, act on the behalf of the business entities so that it doesn’t have its interests totally run over by the EPA or any other federal agency.

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