Many in agriculture refer to the Environmental Protection Agency as a pit bull because of its relentless attacks on farmers and farming. Now, some argue that the agency’s administrator Gina McCarthy has a striking likeness to a pit bull, but that is a matter of opinion. What is quite obvious is that there is a definite anti-agriculture bias at the EPA. The latest bit of evidence of this bias came last week over construction of billboards in Washington state.
A coalition of environmental groups and the Swinomish Indian tribe put up the billboards in Olympia and Bellingham to promote “What’s Upstream,” a media campaign crafted by a public relations firm to link agriculture with water pollution. Misleading anti-agriculture billboards are not new. PETA has a whole collection of offensive boards it has put up over the years. But what turned this into a national scandal is that an EPA grant was used to pay for the billboards.
When farm groups protested and the media picked up the story, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman and EPA critic, Pat Roberts went on the attack. The Kansas Republican called the billboards in Olympia and Bellingham “disturbing,” “malicious,” and typical of EPA’s antagonism toward producers. “The EPA has much to answer for in maligning those that grow the food and fiber to feed the world,” Roberts said in a written statement. “How and why the EPA has allowed taxpayer dollars to be used to attack any industry, including our vital agricultural producers, demands answers.”
EPA did not have an immediate reaction. But, as the week wore on and the story got bigger and more senators started questioning the agency, EPA went into damage control mode. By the end of the week, the federal agency was saying the media campaign was an inappropriate use of EPA funds, and the environmental groups announced on Friday that the billboards would be coming down. Farmers claimed this was a technicality and missed the point that the agency had funded a public opinion campaign. “The billboards are another example of EPA’s improper practice of encouraging the lobbying of legislators,” Roberts said.
Last year, the Government Accountability Office found EPA improperly spent funds on “covert propaganda” to rally support for the new Waters of the United States rule. It is any surprise that farmers to not trust or believe anything the agency says or does? Even recent public opinion polls of the non-farm public have shown people don’t trust the EPA.
Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman Jim Inhofe has called for an audit of the EPA grant program, “It is imperative we learn whether EPA officials are turning a blind eye to this deceptive wrongdoing, and why the administration did not perform the necessary oversight to confirm taxpayer dollars are not mismanaged, and ensure well-established and important federal restrictions against lobbying are being followed.” But in an election year, such an investigation will turn into a political witch hunt, and we may never learn the truth.
Farmers can no longer trust these regulators to treat them fairly or honestly. Agriculture must be prepared to defend itself in the courts against overregulation and misrepresentation, just as we have had to do with WOTUS, the RFS, and other issues. Until Congress or the White House can put a muzzle on this attack dog, farmers and agriculture run the risk of getting bit.
By Gary Truitt