EPA officials vow more cooperation
HARRINGTON, Del. (Jan. 16, 2018) — Meeting with farmers during Delaware Agriculture Week, Environmental Protection Agency officials pledged better outreach and communication on issues where the agency and farm community intersect.
“It’s a partnership. it’s a collaboration. And that is first and foremost paramount for me,” said Cosmo Servidio, EPA Region III administrator, who was joined by Kelly Shenk, Region III agriculture advisor and Delaware Agriculture Secretary Michael Scuse. “Our relationship started about 50 years ago. It hasn’t been an easy one, and I’m cognizant of that.”
As a regulatory agency, Servidio said it will continue to enforce existing laws but also be practical.
“Administrator Scott Pruitt has made it clear the laws on the books are what we will enforce. He doesn’t want to overreach from there,” he said.
Servidio said the region has “turned a corner” in environmental protection, especially in the Chesapeake Bay, but for continued progress the agency and farmers need to work together.
“We need to continue to turn that corner together. I know it’s not easy but I’ll stress this: We want to see the farm community prosper,” Sevidio said. “It really comes down to predictability. You need to know where we’re going and that all comes down to communication.”
He said to expect more interaction with him and the Region III staff and offer comments and feedback at any time.
“You’re not going to see me once and then see me next year. I’m going to be out and about with Kelly and the staff,” he said. “Hearing from all of you and knowing what else we should be doing is what I really want to take back to Philadelphia.”
Going forward, he said he wants to hold more forums to gather input and be involved in trainings for farmers on compliance with specific rules.
Scuse said since returning to Delaware as agriculture secretary, he’s had a positive relationship with the regional office.
“For me it’s been refreshing because in the time I’ve been back here we’ve had some very positive meetings,” Scuse said.
He shared an experience from a recent two-meeting between EPA and officials from states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
“It was pointed out the Bay is much much cleaner today… and the credit was given to the ag community for stepping up to the plate,” Scuse said.
Shenk said recent roundtable meetings on farms in the region have allowed for candid discussion about their concerns.
“It was just a chance for farmers to tell us what’s on their mind,” Shenk said, but those meetings led to more individual farm visits which helped EPA staff better understand food production and help farmers better understand the agency’s perspective.
“We talked real specifically about what’s working well with our programs and where our programs do not sit well with the way their farms are run. That’s invaluable to us on figuring out better ways to work together,” Shenk said. “Anything we can do to build that base line understanding is absolutely important to us.”
She cited two other examples of progress in working together: Collaborating with the University of Delaware and agriculture groups to get more accurate data on poultry litter and nutrients produced on farms and working with the farm community in the Delmarva Land and Litter Challenge to pinpoint excess poultry litter on the peninsula and improve access for farmers who can use it elsewhere in the region.
“We’re tying to not work at cross purposes but all sit at the table together and look at the same information and figure out how we can work together,” Shenk said.
Many of the comments from the farmer audience centered around the agency’s Worker Protection Standard. Ray Vincent, a vegetable grower in Laurel, Del., said a new requirement for eye wash system in the field is going to be difficult to put into practice effectively.
“I see that as being a real problem,” said Vincent, who can have as many as 15 crews working at once. “I think everybody here wants to do right. We’re out there in the fields too, but there’s got to be some common sense as part of that too.”
Scuse noted there was a Worker Protection Standard training during Ag Week that resulted from issues growers experienced this summer and another training set for Feb. 2 at the Cambridge Hyatt during the Mar-Del Watermelon Association Convention.
Vincent’s daughter, Hayley Keenan, said at the Ag Week training, instructors indicated inspectors can vary in their interpretation of parts of the standard which can be frustrating for growers. Servidio and Scuse said that’s where the state and EPA need to be working together for consistency.
“That shouldn’t be the case,” Servidio said. “Quite frankly, that disappoints me.”
Kevin Evans, a Bridgeville, Del., vegetable farmer said adequate and consistent trainings would go a long way in helping farmers understand what is expected of them.
“If we make a routine of it, we’re going to stay consistent with it year in year out,” he said.
“While larger farmers may be able to dedicate someone to understand the regulations “a smaller operator like myself, it can be hard to make sure I’m in compliance.”
Scot Givens, a watermelon grower in Laurel said if the guidance materials for compliance were simplified it would be a big help. He said when he asked an inspector for something to help comply with the standard, he got a 180-page book and other growers Givens has talked to have different interpretations of the rules.
“I don’t know if a checklist is an answer or what but it has to be simplified because everybody has different interpretations of it,” he said.
Wrapping up the forum, Scuse said they are looking at scheduling another forum during the Delaware State Fair to continue the dialogue.
“This is not the last opportunity we’re all going to have to sit around the table and discuss some of the issues that we’re all facing,” Scuse said.
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