- - Tuesday, May 1, 2018

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is getting a lot of push-back for his efforts to reform the Environmental Protection Agency and its rule-making process. His goal of making regulations work better for economic as well as environmental purposes is apparently a new way of doing business at the agency.

A policy change recently announced by the administrator requires that all the data and methodology the EPA uses in the rule-making process from now on will become part of the public record and open to scrutiny. This policy shift is particularly important because it upsets the status quo of an agency that went off the rails years ago.

Mr. Pruitt’s move reverses the long- standing EPA policy that had allowed agency rule-writers to use unpublished data as the basis for creating new regulations. Shielding flawed data and studies of dubious scientific merit, from not just the public eye but even from Congress, has resulted in agenda-driven environmental policies that, more often than not, did more harm than good.

During the Clinton administration, the EPA subjected dust and soot smaller than 2.5 microns to regulation for the very first time, even though it was not previously thought to be life-threatening. When pressed by Congress and even the EPA’s own Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee to let them see the underlying data, the EPA refused and, later in 2011 under the Obama administration, even defied a congressional subpoena in refusing to turn the materials over for further review. This lack of transparency is unacceptable in our nation of “for the people, by the people.”

Another example: During a 2015 House Committee hearing on the EPA’s regulatory overreach, Rep. Frank Lucas, Oklahoma Republican, grilled EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy concerning the agency’s failure to provide scientific and legal justification for the Waters of the U.S. rule. The 2015 Waters of the U.S. rule redefined “navigable waters” and expanded federal jurisdiction as far as to include low-lying areas of farmers’ and ranchers’ fields.

Based on a memo from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which shares Clean Water Act authority with the EPA, Mr. Lucas said, it was “apparent that the alleged facts and figures outlined in EPA’s final Waters of the U.S. rule were completely arbitrary and not based on any science.” Peer review, it seems, was dysfunctional even between government agencies.

Under the 2015 Waters of the U.S. mandate, private property owners faced a real challenge just in being able to manage their own agricultural lands. Fortunately, EPA is now in the process of working to withdraw and replace the disastrous rule. Mr. Pruitt’s reform of the rule-making process in April is a natural follow- up. It will ensure that, in the future, only science that is honestly peer-reviewed, reproducible and open to the light of public examination may form the basis for the EPA regulations by which we live and work.

We welcome these efforts to bring more transparency to a government agency that has a long record of acting beyond its constitutional authority and crafting environmental policies based on questionable, possibly unscientific data. The controversy around Mr. Pruitt’s push for more transparency shows just how agenda- driven and politicized the EPA has become.

Establishing more transparency in government strengthens a collaborative political system defined by higher levels of public engagement and increased accountability. The governed should be able to know what their government is doing.

While working for greater transparency and reasonable, scientifically justifiable regulations is important to farmers’ and ranchers’ freedom to operate and be productive, there’s something else that Mr. Pruitt could do to stand up for science and at the same time help our nation’s farmers to be more economically sustainable:

The EPA must continue to advance the nation’s push toward increased production and use of homegrown, renewable fuels. Our production of biofuels and our nation’s energy independence have grown in response to the Renewable Fuel Standard. We must not pull the rug out from under our still-growing biofuels industry and the farmers who grow the feedstocks for it. The science is collaborative and convincing on ethanol. Even when hypothetical changes in land use are included in the measurement, ethanol from corn reduces greenhouse gas emissions 40-45 percent compared to gasoline.

Today’s EPA wants to restore the use of common sense and sound, peer-reviewed and publicly available science to guide our nation’s environmental policies. Calling for increased transparency is a good first step, and Mr. Pruitt deserves credit for bringing an objective, reasoned approach back to the EPA. He can continue the push for openness and reason in EPA regulation by taking the same approach to growing America’s production of low-carbon, farm-grown biofuels.

• Zippy Duvall is president of the American Farm Bureau Federation. He is a cattle and poultry farmer from Georgia.


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