Innovation, Environmental Protection and Economic Growth in America’s Rural Communities
by Lisa P. Jackson
Yesterday I was in Warwick Township and Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, a rural community that has been a model for resource conservation and sustainable economic growth. This was one of many visits EPA officials have made to connect with rural communities. I have had the chance to sit down with growers in Georgia, visited California’s Central Valley and toured farming operations with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in Iowa. Along with my fellow EPA officials, we have connected with hundreds of farmers, business owners, local leaders and rural residents to talk about commonsense efforts to strengthen their economies and protect their health and the environment.
American farmers and ranchers depend on clean air, safe and abundant sources of water and healthy lands. That’s why farming communities have taken incredible steps to steward the environment their jobs and economy thrive on.
In the last 30 years, agricultural producers have worked with government officials and local conservation groups to reduce soil erosion by more than 40 percent. At the same time, agriculture has gone from being the leading contributor to wetland loss to leading the entire nation in wetland restoration efforts. In Lancaster, local efforts have managed to preserve upwards of 80,000 acres of farmland, and Warwick Township was named Conservationist of the Year by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation for its work to prevent runoff from polluting the watershed.
These are just a few of the examples I’ve seen. In California’s Central Valley — an area responsible for some $24 billion in agricultural activity — I visited a farmer who re-vamped his irrigation system to reduce water use and save money, while another grower who was transitioning to new irrigation pump motors that reduced air emissions on his farm.
In Iowa, I joined Secretary Vilsack at a cattle operation where a rotational grazing system helps protect soil and water quality, and met a farmer who has used no-till farming and a precision sprayer for years to minimize pesticide use and runoff from his soybean fields.
America’s rural communities have also been part of innovative solutions for our entire economy. The Renewable Fuel Standard EPA finalized last year will encourage farmers to continue to work with industry to innovate and produce clean renewable fuel. It will help secure our nation’s energy future, replacing our dependence on foreign oil with clean, homegrown fuels produced by America’s farmers. At the same time, it will create jobs, and is expected to increase farmers’ income by an estimated $13 billion annually.
These meetings with farmers on their land are also a great opportunity to get outside the Washington, DC echo chamber and address myths and other inaccuracies they might be hearing about the EPA. For example, months ago rumors flew around that, under a law passed by Congress, EPA was considering treating spilled milk like an oil spill. This was never the case; in fact, our efforts were focused on exempting dairy producers from regulations that should not apply to them. Thanks to work with the dairy industry and the agricultural community, we obtained a formal exemption for all milk and milk products, a change that could save farmers up to $140 million.
As we confront the major environmental challenges of our time — combating climate change, reducing soil erosion, and ensuring an ample supply of clean water for our families and food production — farmers have an important opportunity to lead the way. That is why I will continue to visit with communities like Lancaster to see the best practices at work and speak directly with the local residents.