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Politicians Grill EPA Administrator

Todd Neeley DTN Staff Reporter
 Mar 11, 2011

OMAHA (DTN) -- The U.S. House Committee on Agriculture took shots at the EPA during a hearing Thursday, indicating that the agency is out of touch with agriculture and relies too much on court settlements to direct policies that affect farmers.

Members of the House Agriculture Committee on Thursday questioned EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson about EPA's track record of more often settling lawsuits with environmental groups rather than challenging them in court. (Logo courtesy of EPA)

The hearing was held as part of many hearings from several committees, all looking to strip EPA authority on a variety of issues -- from enforcing greenhouse gas emissions, to pushing for more transparency on court settlements.

Members of the committee questioned EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson about EPA's track record of more often settling lawsuits with environmental groups rather than challenging them in court. Multiple committee members argued those lawsuits more often result in EPA handing down regulations that hurt agriculture.

Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Calif., suggested EPA has allowed environmental groups to dictate regulations that most often harm farmers.

"I believe your agency is the most unpopular agency from sea to shining sea," he said. "Your agency often pursues a course of agency activism. You settle suits that allow you to pursue a course of action that law would otherwise not allow you to do so."

Cardoza then asked Jackson whether she was aware of EPA agency employees asking outside groups to file lawsuits, though Cardoza had no evidence that has occurred.

Jackson replied, "I'm not aware of any. That would be highly inappropriate."

Jackson said EPA typically works with the U.S. Department of Justice when deciding how to respond to lawsuits.

The EPA has been getting hit from several sides. Earlier Thursday, the Energy and Commerce Committee's Energy and Power subcommittee approved House Resolution 910 during a markup on the bill that would block EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions.

That bill passed along party lines and was sent to the full committee.

JACKSON REFUTES CONCERNS

Jackson was put in the hot seat on a variety of agriculture issues, but she started her testimony by refuting many of the widely held notions and concerns coming from U.S. farmers. She said there have been many "mischaracterizations" by "special interests." Jackson said EPA is not planning to regulate farm dust, milk under oil containment rules and does not have a zero-tolerance policy on agriculture chemical spray drift. EPA also doesn't plan to impose specific pollution limits on fertilizer and animal manure.

Still, lawmakers insisted EPA is usurping Congress. Rep. Timothy Johnson, R-Ill., said he believes EPA has gone around the law by using the rule-making process.

"Your agency, time after time after time, has intruded on legislative authority," he said. "We're gravely concerned with what EPA is doing, specifically with agriculture."

FARMERS HAVE NEGATIVE VIEW OF EPA

Rep. Colin Peterson, D-Minn., told Jackson that farmers' "negative" view of EPA partially comes from what appears to be EPA's hesitancy to challenge lawsuits.

"They see an out-of-control agency that does undermine agriculture," he said. "Many cases are not litigated to the point where a court issues a ruling. Often a settlement is made. This is not any way to make agriculture policy. This sue-and-settle strategy keeps the process in the dark. It needs to be a transparent process. I think this is an opportunity for Congress to address some problems."

EPA has been sued by a variety of environmental groups throughout the years.

Perhaps the largest lawsuit was brought in recent months by the Center for Biological Diversity. The group claims EPA failed to consult federal wildlife officials about the Endangered Species Act before it allowed the use of pesticides.

If successful, the lawsuit that names hundreds of threatened or endangered species, as well as nearly all agriculture chemicals, could stop or severely limit the use of pesticides pending an EPA review.

Peterson said EPA needs to be more transparent about the settlements as well as the amount of taxpayer dollars given to successful litigants in those cases.

"I'd like to know what settlements were made since you took over as administrator, and whether rule making was made from it?" he asked. "I can't find on your website these settlements. I hear complaints. Is it being made public?"

In many cases, those groups that file lawsuits are reimbursed for court fees and other expenses in successful cases brought against EPA.

Todd Neeley can be reached at todd.neeley@telventdtn.com

 
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              Page Updated: Wednesday March 23, 2011 02:32 AM  Pacific


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