Mid-Atlantic EPA reps hold roundtable discussion
HARRINGTON, Del. — Joined by Delaware Agriculture Secretary Michael Scuse, officials from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Mid-Atlantic Region held a roundtable discussion with invited farmers during the Delaware State Fair.
The roundtable was closed to media but following the discussion, officials shared their thoughts on the meeting and its importance.
Scuse said with some of the regional office staff being new to their positions, it was important for them “to hear the thoughts from our ag community about what we see are our issues in dealing with water quality air quality and how we can better work together and open up lines of communication.”
Similar roundtables have occurred almost annually in recent years in Delaware and Scuse said maintaining a relationship is “incredibly important.”
“Understand that there was a period of time where the bay states did not have a good relationship with EPA,” Scuse said. “Being able to have meetings like this, I think they are extremely important and are ultimately going to help us reach our goals and objectives and cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay. Working together works, and that was not always the case and it is today, and that’s what’s going to make the difference.”
Scuse said topics that came up from farmers at the roundtable included changes to modeling programs that could better quantify and credit practices that farmers have put in place to meet water quality goals, and to make sure decisions are based on good science.
Adam Ortiz, Region 3 administrator, said hearing directly from farmers is valuable to the agency’s work.
“We do our job best when we’re listening and working in coordination with frontline stakeholders across the board and farmers are our frontline environmentalists,” Ortiz said. “We have a job to do, carry out the laws and follow the science for environmental protection, but we want to do it in ways that work with the people that are on the ground.”
Ortiz said after meeting with farmers, it’s clear that they are committed to taking care of the land and water they work on.
“It was remarkable to me the experience that was in the room in the wisdom about soil health and how it makes a difference,” Ortiz said. “I also appreciated people being upfront and candid about their concerns but what I heard was a commitment to work together.”
Dr. Kandis Boyd, director of EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Program said partnering with farmers and showing them science-based results need to remain priorities.
“Finding ways to take the science and translate it into easy-to-understand information so that stakeholders and partners can make informed decisions, I think that’s really important.” Boyd said.
Noting funding for cost share and other grants are crucial to the process, Boyd said in May, federal legislation directed $238 million toward Chesapeake Bay restoration over 5 years.
“That’s going to supercharge a lot of our efforts for modeling, for restoration and just for finding new and different ways to bring people to the table,” he said.
The infusion in funds is definitely being felt here in Delaware, Ortiz added. The state’s revolving fund that goes to water projects including agriculture has more than doubled.
“That kind of investment goes a long way,” he said. “We know that there’s tough challenges, but … profit margins on farms are thin and having high expectations can be a lot for small farmers so helping ease the pain and cost share to get projects on the ground can make all the difference in the world.”