Here in the Heartland

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Here in the Heartland, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency cares about fairs. All kinds of fairs:  local, county, and the “big ones” for our four states. In a region that provides a huge share of the nation’s and the world’s food, forage, fiber, and fuel, these annual gatherings in late summer and early fall give ag producers and their families a great chance to show off their work and to educate their city cousins about the realities of growing food.

Since I became the Regional Administrator for EPA’s Region 7 office, I have attended the Iowa, Kansas, and Missouri State Fairs. I spent a great day in Des Moines last month at “the fair with which none can compare,” the Iowa State Fair. Hope the attached pictures show how much fun I had, and also how much new EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy valued her day at the Fair.

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I was delighted to accompany my boss around the State Fairgrounds. This was her first trip to the Heartland after being confirmed by the United States Senate in late July. Naturally, all of my Region 7 coworkers wanted her first visit as Administrator to be memorable. And we were proud to know that this was the very first visit to one of America’s great state fairs by an EPA Administrator. Iowa is so important that presidents, Ag Secretaries, and even a celebrity or two, stop in to see the livestock and machinery, and maybe to snack on a treat or two.

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While at the Iowa State Fair, Administrator McCarthy started our day right, with a frank and cordial chat with about 15 Iowa farmers, livestock producers, and ag business reps. We also shared a juicy, delicious pork chop with our round-table hosts, which only makes sense given Iowa’s top rank as the world’s leading pork producer. The Administrator emphasized that EPA’s mission to safeguard the natural resources on which our productive agriculture depends complemented the responsibilities individual farm families have to be top-grade environmental stewards.

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Later that day, at a lunch with about 65 Iowa farm families who’d earned the Governor’s Environmental Steward award, EPA’s top boss spoke from the heart about her dedication to unleashing ag innovation to help EPA accomplish its job. She reminded folks who know from first-hand experience how climate change poses huge challenges to an industry dependent on regular rainfall and predictable temperatures. And she emphasized, when Iowa has record rainfalls and record droughts – all in a 12-month span – this nation knows it has to adapt to a changing climate, improve ag’s resiliency, and take commonsense steps to slow the rate of change.

And, in comments that drew applause from the crowd, the Administrator said she vowed to talk straight with ag, to work toward solutions that benefit us all, and to use EPA’s powers to reinforce smart changes on the land, where it matters. And when she said she would talk straight, she acknowledged that, being a good Bostonian, she might drop a few “R’s” and put in a few others “where I darn well please.”

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I’ll be at the Kansas State Fair in Hutchinson (“Hutch,” as all of us good Kansans call it) on Sept. 13 to check out the exhibits and to hold various conversations with producers, ag media, and congressional staff. And I’ll captain the EPA Region 7 “Celebrity Goat Milking” team to victory, mostly because my teammates are all “ringers”: Damon Frizzell raises goats on his farm and Katie Howard was a grand-prize goat wrangler in her younger days on the farm in her home state of Wisconsin. We’ll be sure to post pictures of our contented, productive nannies and their proud, victorious EPA milkers!

Hope you take in a fair in your area.  And thank a farmer while you’re at it.

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.

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