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Administrator Gina McCarthy, Remarks at NASDA Winter Policy Conference, As Prepared

Thanks so much, Secretary Ross.

You know, at the White House last week, they did this virtual “Big Block of Cheese Day.” Basically, after the State of the Union, people nationwide tweeted us questions about all the issues. So I went over to answer some on climate and the environment. And they asked me what my favorite cheese was—and since you can tell from my accent that I am not from the mid-west, I had to tell them: Vermont Cheddar! So, I expect to see some kind of royalties from that. All kidding aside, thanks so much for having me.

Last November, I was in Fresno in the San Joaquin Valley and met a lot of wonderful farmers—let me just give a shout out to our friend and California Ag. Secretary Karen Ross. The highlight of that trip had to be the big John Deer I drove around for a bit. Of course, I made sure it was a clean fuel burning tractor, first. But on a serious note—my heart goes out to the folks in California who are struggling with this historic drought. We stand ready to help as much as we can because, believe it or not, the EPA wants to see agriculture succeed despite the increasing catastrophic weather events we face.

As Administrator I’ve been to the Iowa State Fair and I’ve done a few roundtables in Missouri and Indiana to hear directly from local growers. And when I can’t get to farms, I make sure folks can get to me. That’s why I'm happy I get the chance to talk to you all today.

I’ve said it before—I consider our farmers to be our “original conservationists.” We share the same concern about the quality of air, water, and land that nourish the food, fiber, and fuel that support farmers’ livelihoods and feed the nation. It’s a critical part of our economy. Fulfilling our Mission at EPA depends on our relationships with farmers and ranchers. That’s why I want to encourage you all to keep working arm-in-arm with your State Environmental Agencies—those are crucial and beneficial partnerships. And if that partnership isn’t happening for you now—make it happen. I’m giving the same message to your environment colleagues.

In so many ways, agriculture issues are also EPA issues—and that’s how I’m going to continue to approach them as Administrator. When we look at agriculture in America—we see clearly why commonsense environmental protections are essential for economic growth and safer public health. Poor air quality doesn’t just hurt crop growth by lowering per-acre yields; it also drives up rates of childhood asthma and other health risks. Those health risks are a real cost to our economy.

Our changing climate poses a new set of challenges for all of us, and our farmers have been hit hard. 2012 was the second costliest year for natural disasters in American history, with a price tag of $110 billion dollars. Those costs weigh heavily on farmers and ranchers— whose lands and livestock suffered from the most devastating droughts in a generation. That’s why acting on climate change is so important, and why EPA is committed to doing our part under President Obama’s Climate Action Plan.

And last week in the State of the Union, we heard the President reiterate his strong commitment for action on climate. In addition to curbing the harmful carbon pollution fueling climate change, EPA is helping cities, towns—and our farms—become more resilient to climate impacts. That’s how we can protect people, livelihoods, and our economy.

And that means dealing with another issue plaguing farmers and families in communities nationwide—poor water quality and water infrastructure. And just last week, I announced a few EPA tools aimed and helping ease some of that burden. One of those announcements was Phase 2 of the National Stormwater Calculator and Climate Assessment Tool Package. The Stormwater Calculator can estimate annual runoff at a specific site. Phase two includes has different data built in--including future climate scenarios.

That helps cities, and farms, find the most cost effective ways to deal with runoff. I also announced nearly $9 million in grants through our “Science to Achieve Results” program to go towards researching nutrient pollution. We all know how nutrient pollution threatens both farm productivity and families’ health. This investment will help us better manage nutrients and better protect our precious water supplies. And soon, there will be a proposed draft rule on the jurisdiction of Waters of the U.S.—or what is covered by the Clean Water Act.

I know this has been a controversial issue for some time. But I want you to know that the whole point of the proposal is to bring clarity to the regulated communities where this matters—and that means agriculture. Honestly, I think you’re going to be somewhat pleased when this proposal comes out. We tried hard to balance agricultural needs. We are following the science like we always do—and where the science is unclear we will be challenging folks to step up with additional information to make it clearer.

One more proposed rule will be coming out this month—and that’s the Worker Protection rule. On that rule—our intention is to respect the unique worker needs of agriculture—while protecting workers health and the publics’ health. That’s just one way we are staying committed to making a difference in families’ lives in rural communities across the country. We’ve done—and are doing—that in a variety of ways here in DC and in our Regions.

Our Hypoxia Task Force, which includes EPA and USDA and other federal agencies, also includes 12 state agencies—many of which are here today. Through that Task Force folks are sharing information about what’s going on in their states—so we can all be part of the hypoxia solution. And of course, we recently released a proposed rule to set renewable fuels standards for 2014. It’s everyone’s responsibility to comment on the proposal and help EPA develop the best path forward. That’s how we can keep this important program for our farmers who are busy growing the crops that can fuel a nation.

From air quality in Fresno, CA and water quality in Indiana—to agricultural habitat in Louisiana and cheese in Vermont…EPA’s partnership with Agriculture in America has never been more important. Together, we can confront challenges and seize the environmental and agricultural opportunities we face. That how—like the President said last week—when our kids “look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world”… we’ll be able to say “yes, we did.”

Thank you.