SPOKANE — The Environmental Protection Agency can be a partner for soil conservation organizations and farmers instead of an adversary, the agency’s Pacific Northwest chief says.
EPA Region 10 Administrator Dennis McLerran spoke during a panel discussion at the National Association of Conservation Districts summer board meeting in Spokane.
“We sometimes take a bad rap at EPA — sometimes we deserve that, oftentimes it’s a lot of rhetoric,” he said. “Sometimes we use the hammer to bring people to the table, but we can use a ‘velvet hammer’ in some instances.”
EPA has to regulate with the idea that it wants the agricultural sector to be successful, McLerran said.
He said the EPA works with other agencies on the state and federal levels, including the Washington Conservation Commission and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.
“My belief is that EPA should step back when the states have programs that are working and making a difference,” McLerran said. “We all share a desire for the same outcomes, which are a healthy and thriving industry, clean water, soil conservation and programs that actually work on the ground.”
Such efforts are still works in progress, McLerran said. He cited groundwater problems related to Yakima Valley dairies. Some nearby drinking water wells showed higher nitrate concentrations than standards allow, McLerran said. McLerran said he chose to speak with key area dairies about working together without the traditional regulatory approach, trying to shield them from lawsuits while finding solutions.
During a lawsuit brought by a citizens group, a judge found some dairies were not following their own farm management plans, McLerran said.
“The key to this is for people to actually work with their local NRCS program, their local conservation district and have practices that don’t get them to that place in the first place,” he said.
Partnerships between agencies and farmers were a common theme throughout the meeting.
In setting the agenda for the meeting, the Spokane Conservation District wanted to showcase the state’s agriculture for national policy leaders, said district director Vicki Carter. The event included a day-long tour of agriculture on the Palouse region of Washington and Idaho.
Carter cited a “contentiousness” among some regulatory agencies. She hopes the conservation districts can be a bridge for those agencies to solve conflicts.