EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, herself a veteran of state environmental agencies, always reminds us that environmental protection is an “enterprise.” That means EPA is only one part of a larger effort that keeps people healthy and our natural environment productive. A very important part, to be sure, but EPA can only accomplish our mission by working with partners: state agencies, local communities, businesses large and small, and families who grow the crops that feed our world.
Here in the Heartland, Region 7 recently hosted two important conversations that illustrate why we say, “Environmental protection is a team effort.”
Region 7 includes much of our country’s most productive farmland. From Missouri’s Bootheel, which raises cotton and rice, to Nebraska’s cattle country stretching nearly to the Rockies, agriculture’s engine room drives much of America’s farm output. And when you look west, EPA Region 8 encompasses not just the Dakotas’ irrigated corn and bean producers, but wheat growers on the Plains and stockraisers along the Rocky Mountains from Montana to Utah. This immense agricultural bounty requires the EPA to know farming, and to know farmers. Some of America’s most influential innovators are ag producers and their suppliers, customers, and research institutes at land-grant universities and private firms.
To keep the conversation flowing between this agency and American agriculture, EPA Regions 7 and 8 started in 2011 hosting annual conferences to bring the 10 states’ agricultural directors to our offices each winter. Region 8 Regional Administrator Shaun McGrath and his ag adviser from Denver joined me and my Region 7 ag team this winter for some thoughtful and vigorous discussions with our state-agency counterparts.
As you can see from the picture, the 2014 state-EPA conference drew a crowd. Administrator McCarthy’s former ag advisor, Sarah Bittleman, joined us for the conference, adding a national perspective on issues ranging from pesticides and pollinators to chemical and fuel storage. She also fielded – no surprise – a few questions about the agency’s pending Renewable Fuel Standard rule.
Shaun and I look forward to the 5th annual state ag director/EPA meeting next year. Anyone who still believes farming is old-fashioned would soon change that old-fashioned view after listening to our state ag counterparts – whose jobs usually combine both promotion and regulation – describe the perennial transformations that make American agriculture the world’s most abundant and innovative.
Karl Brooks serves as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 7 Administrator. He supervises Agency operations in Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, and nine Tribal Nations. Previous to this appointment, he was an assistant professor at the University of Kansas. Since 2000, he taught American environmental, political, and legal history as well as environmental law and policy to thousands of KU undergraduate, graduate, and law students.