By RACHEL LANE
WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy found herself defending her agency from members of the House Agriculture Committee last week as they questioned the EPA’s actions and the impact on rural communities.
McCarthy had to define words to justify current actions and policies in place, largely in regards to the Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) program. She also agreed to look more closely into the Army Corps of Engineers and algae blooms in Lake Erie.
During the hearing Thursday, Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) brought attention to an issue involving the Corps dumping sludge into Lake Erie, along the Ohio border. The Corps was told to stop by the EPA and received a court order, but the dumping continued.
Fudge and Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio) requested McCarthy look into the issue again. “Dumping sediment into Lake Erie is unacceptable and must be stopped to ensure the health and safety of all Ohioans,” Fudge said.
She said Lake Erie provides drinking water for millions of people, supports thousands of jobs and contributes more than $2 billion to the local economy.
“I think the most important thing we can do is listen to one another and try to identify the path forward that meets our shared goals because we certainly share the goal of protecting the environment,” McCarthy said.
McCarthy said the EPA is trying to work with farmers, ranchers, federal and state government officials to protect the environment while acknowledging there are some limitations to the speed issues can be addressed. “It was an open dialogue,” she said. “We’re trying to think of (policies) in a common-sense way.”
She told committee members there are no laws granting the EPA sustainability oversight, because sustainability cannot be regulated – but pollutants can and should be regulated.
McCarthy was also questioned about the agency’s lobbying over the past year. “You broke the law,” said Rep. David Scott (D-Ga.). “It needs to be admitted, it needs to be recognized and furthermore, you spent taxpayers’ money in the lobbying ... There’s no way you’re going to correct this if you don’t realize that you’ve drastically overstepped here.”
He said the EPA spent $64,000 lobbying from February 2014 to February 2015.
Scott said the EPA also violated the rights of farmers in dealing with the Clean Water Act. Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-Pa.) said the EPA has used WOTUS to force states to comply with regulations.
A federal court ruled in October that the EPA had to wait to implement WOTUS until a final ruling was reached. Shortly after that decision, the Government Accountability Office stated the agency broke the law by promoting WOTUS on social media.
“I remain deeply concerned about the potential impact upon farming, flood control, energy production and infrastructure projects,” Thompson said. “The EPA’s treatment of the court ruling … shows the complete lack of willingness by the administration to work with stakeholders on measures that would actually produce environmental benefit in a cooperative and collaborative manner.”
Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.) told McCarthy there have been great benefits to the environment and to farmers when the EPA works with the state. “Nobody is a better steward of the environment than the family farmer because their complete livelihood depends on taking care of that area,” she said.
She also said she remembers when the EPA was a partner, but today’s EPA has become a punitive revenue generator.
“The toll on jobs because of this issue of heavy-handed government, there’s really no other way to explain it,” Walorski said. “I understand your intention, but I also understand that I’ve been around long enough that we’ve been able to have great gains in this country with a partner in the EPA. When it comes to WOTUS … I’m asking you to pull this rule and bring shareholders around this, and let’s do it right, let’s do it balanced.”
McCarthy admitted that landowner questions of jurisdiction over waters must be considered by the government. “The way in which the law works is that if there is a question that you’re going to be destroying or polluting what might be a water … the individual landowner might be concerned that their activity would be doing that and they may need a permit … on their private land or elsewhere, then that question is raised by that landowner and they ask the appropriate questions, that usually and often goes to USDA or others and filters its way through,” McCarthy said.
Committee Chair Michael Conaway (R-Texas) said farmers, ranchers and foresters are the original conservationists. “While it may be popular among some to blame farmers and ranchers for any and every environmental concern that crops up, I think that you can acknowledge that nobody cares more for the environment than those who derive their livelihood from it,” he said.