Speeches - By Date
Iowa, Michigan, and Missouri Farm Bureau Federations, Washington, D.C.03/21/2001
Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency,
Iowa, Michigan, and Missouri Farm Bureau Federations
March 21, 2001
Thank you, Ed (Wiederstein), and thank you, fellow farmers. It’s good to be with you today for what I hope will be just the first of many similar get-togethers in the future.
I say “fellow farmers” because I was born and raised on my family’s farm in New Jersey. Fortunately, we’ve been able to keep the farm in the family – my husband and I still live there. And while our farm could probably fit in a tiny corner of most of yours, anyone who has lived the rhythms of farm life knows what it’s like to be a farmer in a way that no one else can.
So I want to begin by assuring you that you have an administrator at the Environmental Protection Agency who appreciates what you do – the challenges, the frustrations, and the rewards – and someone who wants to work with you to protect America’s environment and the health of the people you feed.
During the campaign last year, President Bush talked about building partnerships between the federal government and the people it serves. He’s already putting that talk into action. The President’s budget shows that. He wants to cut the income tax, and let people keep more of what they earn. He also wants to eliminate the death tax. It’s time to put the death tax six feet under before it kills any more small businesses and family farms.
I am pleased to report that a good part of my mission at the EPA is to be part of the President’s effort to put Washington back in touch with the people it serves – and, in my case, that means transforming the relationship between the Agency and those it regulates.
For the first thirty years of its existence, the EPA has largely been a command and control sort of Agency. Washington gave the commands, exercised the control, and came down hard on those who didn’t follow along.
There was a time when that approach was probably necessary. The underlying commitment to environmental protection that now reaches into every sector of our society had not yet been fully formed. The seeds of that commitment were planted three decades ago. Now they are in full bloom.
That’s what makes it possible for us to seek out new partnerships – partnerships that will enable us to meet our shared goals by focusing on results.
We live in an exciting time – a time when advances in knowledge and technology hold the promise of even greater progress in American agriculture. Agricultural innovation is as old as our country itself. About 15 miles south of here, at George Washington’s Mount Vernon, you can see a exhibit called the Pioneer Farmer, which highlights his many efforts to improve methods and production on his farms.
Washington would be astonished by – and probably a bit envious of – the ways of modern farming. You and I know that America’s political, economic, and social strength would not be possible if America’s people didn’t have the abundant and reliable food supply you help provide. If we are to continue to maintain our place in the world, we will need to continue our forward progress in agriculture.
Recently, because the changes have been so breathtaking, a fair degree of anxiety is developing around advances such as biotechnology. When people hear talk of something called genetic modifications, visions of Frankenstein dance in their heads. Maybe we need to change the name, but until we do, that reaction is understandable. Remember the old margarine commercial whose tag line went: “It’s not nice to fool with Mother Nature”? That sentiment strikes a chord with most Americans.
Of course, it’s true that since the first farmer sowed his seeds thousands of years ago, we have been seeking ways to at least manage Mother Nature, if not fool her. For centuries, farmers have been finding ways to increase yields, defeat pests, and improve the quality of what we eat – and consumers have been glad they’ve succeeded. That progress must continue.
I, for one, believe that biotech, for example, holds tremendous promise. We must be sure, however, that as new products are developed, they are safe for people and for the environment. It doesn’t do anyone any good if a product approved for market is later found unsafe because the necessary scientific analysis was not performed.
I want my Agency to be your partner in moving forward with the latest advances. I recently learned that chemical companies are potentially developing biotech applications for wheat. If this technology is adopted, we will all need to ensure that it is safe. Those decisions will be based on sound science, not shifting sentiments. That is the only way we can ensure that any biotech product is accepted by consumers, both at home and abroad.
The recent StarLink Corn situation provides some valuable lessons on how we should address future biotech issues. One of the lessons learned is that EPA should no longer consider the type of split pesticide registration which allowed StarLink to be used in animal feed but not for human consumption. Earlier this month I decided to put an end to the practice of split registration.
In addition, later this month our Scientific Advisory Panel is scheduled to release its report on our preliminary reassessment of all biotech plant-pesticides. We will make our decisions based on the scientific data provided, as well as on the comments we receive from the public – including farmers. My goal is to make sure we reap the benefits of biotech without sowing public doubt and mistrust.
We also need to ensure that we are giving farmers appropriate access to various markets for their products. You may have heard that last week I agreed to increase the amount of ethanol that can be used in reformulated gasoline in the Chicago and Milwaukee areas. My decision recognizes the fact that ethanol helps reduce carbon monoxide emissions and should help contain the price of gasoline in those areas. I am pleased we can work together to help motorists in those two areas.
Another area where I am eager to build partnerships is in the implementation of the Food Quality Protection Act. Consumers want to know that the food they serve their families is safe from harmful pesticides. But they also want to know that there will always be an abundant supply of food for their tables. These are not mutually exclusive goals.
Again, this is an area where I believe our goals are the same. No one wants America’s food supply to put people at risk. Just as allowing unsafe food to come to market would be bad public policy, so too is sending unsafe food to market bad business policy. I believe we can work together to successfully implement Food Quality Protection. I intend to include all the stakeholders in the process and am interested in your ideas on how that process can be improved.
With respect to the Food Quality Protection Act, you may have heard about action we took at EPA yesterday regarding lawsuits that had been filed by the National Resources Defense Council. We were able to negotiate some changes to the consent decree the previous administration agreed to during its closing days in office. These changes resulted from in-depth discussions among the interested parties – including the ag community. As a result, we were able to make the pesticide program’s regulatory processes more participatory and transparent.
I know this amended consent decree won’t make everyone happy – but as someone once said, that’s a good measure of a reasonable compromise. Given my limited legal flexibility in this matter, I’m pleased we were able to provide new opportunities for public participation and additional external review. I will continue to seek the views of all interested parties and I hope you will be sure to share with me your concerns. We do need to work together.
We also need to work together to achieve pesticide regulatory harmonization. The United States, Canada, and Mexico have made a great deal of progress on this issue. As markets open, we have to ensure that U.S. farmers aren’t put at a competitive disadvantage. That includes not just regulatory consistency, but price consistency as well. EPA stands ready to work with you, the Congress, and all the other stakeholders to find the necessary legislative remedy.
I am enthusiastic about the direction in which the President has asked me to take the EPA. I believe that the Agency and all those with whom it interacts are ready to help build a new framework for cooperation and progress. To paraphrase the lyrics from that great Rogers and Hammerstein musical, Oklahoma, “the farmers and the government should be friends.”
The challenges facing America’s farmers are real, and I’ve only touched on a few of them today. But as I learned growing up on a farm, everybody has to pitch in to get the job done. That’s the sort of spirit I hope will prevail in the work we do together in the months and years ahead.