As the week draws to a close, more details are emerging about the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) release of personal data  on thousands of farmers and ranchers. It has been a disturbing story all along, but this week’s admission that the personal information was indeed released to environmental activists  and then, absurdly, that EPA has now asked activists to return the information they were given makes the entire tale even more unbelievable.
In the midst of the uproar over the data release, the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee was conducting the confirmation hearing for Gina McCarthy, President Obama’s nominee to head the EPA following former administrator Lisa Jackson’s departure. McCarthy faced tough questions, primarily from Sen. Deb Fischer, (R-NE). A National Cattlemen’s Beef Association press release  indicates Fischer urged McCarthy and EPA to ensure that regulations are made based on sound, publicly available science that is subject to a thorough analysis.
McCarthy is currently the assistant administrator of EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, and acknowledged during the hearing that the relationship with agricultural producers could be improved. “We have bridges to build with the farming community,” she said, adding later, “I’m a meat eater myself.”
During the hearing, McCarthy was asked whether she would commit to not creating a national database with information on agricultural operations around the country. In response, McCarthy said she was not familiar with the plans. She did not commit to not creating a national database, which would make producer information publicly available and readily searchable through EPA’s Web site. She did say, however, that she intended to continue to pursue the attempts that EPA has initiated to retrieve the farmer and rancher information that has been released. In the press release, NCBA Deputy Environmental Counsel Ashley McDonald said McCarthy’s stance calls into question whether she truly wants to build relationships with the agricultural community.
What about the pork industry’s take on McCarthy? Last month, Randy Spronk , newly elected National Pork Producers Council president, wrote an article for Roll Call  in which he expressed optimism about McCarthy’s anticipated EPA leadership role. Spronk said the U.S. pork industry believes McCarthy, could provide a much-needed overhaul for the EPA, resulting in a better relationship with the nation's pork producers.
Spronk said under McCarthy’s leadership as assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation for the past four years, the staff in the EPA Air Office has been "smart, professional, transparent and trustworthy; they say what they mean and mean what they say. And for the stakeholders affected by the policies of that office, that has been, well, a breath of fresh air." He also said that even though the U.S. pork industry, which in 2006 negotiated a consent agreement with EPA’s Air Office to determine the emissions from farms, didn’t always agree with McCarthy and her department, she was consistently willing to reach out and listen to pork producers’ concerns and discuss solutions.
At this point, it is expected that McCarthy will soon be confirmed to lead EPA. Let’s hope Spronk’s optimism is also confirmed. The current “release-and-retrieve” approach to sensitive producer information is a complete violation of agriculture’s trust. Pork producers really do care deeply about protecting the environment. Do you think there is any chance of developing a successful team approach with an EPA that can be trusted in the future? Share your thoughts in the Comments section or email [email protected] . We’ll keep you up to date on this developing story at nationalhogfarmer.com.
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