Transcript - Farm Journal Media Interview with Regional Administrator Karl Brooks: EPA Regulatory Responsibilities, Ag Outreach
Pam Fretwell: Hello, everyone and welcome to Straight from the Heartland. I'm Pam Fretwell. With me today, Mr. Karl Brooks, of course, with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Let's talk about who you are and where you're from.
Karl Brooks: I'm the Regional Administrator for Region 7 EPA. Our territory includes Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, so we're about a half a million miles of the American Heartland.
Our regional EPA operation interacts with ag at every level from farm gate at the producers place up through all the big trade associations, the suppliers and so forth. It's a big part of our work at EPA Region 7.
Pam Fretwell: Farming has a lot of dangers in it and there's a lot of emergency response that we have to do in our occupation.
Karl Brooks: The heartland that we worked on a lot during the floods on both the Missouri and then up in the Iowa rivers over the last several years, working with producers and with first responders to make sure that if the waters are rising, we get the stuff out that becomes those floating containers that no one wants to have in the water. So that would be fuel containers, lubricants, chemicals – all different kinds of things like that you don't want to have around floodwaters.
Pam Fretwell: We talk about the EPA. We have a lot of regulations. You're in charge of regulating a lot of different things. Tell me, what is the mission of EPA?
Karl Brooks: We protect public health and the environment so that everybody here in the Midwest can earn a living, can enjoy a healthy community, and can live in the kind of place that you can hand on with pride to your kids and grandkids. That's really our mission at EPA is to be part of that equation.
Pam Fretwell: Sometimes farmers feel – I believe that because there's fewer people in the farming industry than the public sector – that sometimes maybe they get overregulated or there's consequences of regulation that maybe people in Washington, D.C., don't understand. Would you agree with that?
Karl Brooks: One of the things that we do a lot of here in this part of the country, Pam, is to go on the road to learn from and listen to producers so that we understand at the ground level how our rules affect an operation. So I've spent thousands of miles every year, driving around our part of the country. I go to trade shows. I go to land grant colleges. We meet with individual producers at their farms. We have all kinds of listening sessions. I've been from West Point, Nebraska, to St. Genevieve, Missouri, listening to people who farm, talk about what they do. That communication, that transparency, that mutual respect – it goes a long way toward making sure people understand how EPA can be a partner with them in their operation.
Our objective is to make sure that we are promoting practices that individual landowners do that have the best long-term environmental benefits. Farmers are the original conservationists. They're the ones who have management and stewardship responsibility for millions of acres of the heartland. We'd rather be working with ag as a partner.
Pam Fretwell: On the negative side, sometimes people want to go back, then reinvestigate the atrazine issue when they really feel like it should be laid to rest.
Karl Brooks: One thing about American pesticides law that I think makes a lot of sense is that we have this regular scientific cycle of looking at new information. The chemical manufacturers are part of that. They supply that information. We gather independent scientists and advisory panels to give us the best information. We have sample plots throughout the heartland here where we're looking at atrazine concentrations in the water, in the soil, so that we can make decisions that are based on science that are in the long-term interest of everybody.
Pam Fretwell: If a farmer is out there and he has a problem with an EPA regulation or a concern about EPA, how can they get hold of someone that will listen?
Karl Brooks: Okay, there's a couple of things they can do. First, they can call our Environmental Protection Agency office, which is in the Kansas City area, (913) 551-7006. We'll take that phone call and see if we can sort the problem out. They should also go to our website, www.epa.gov. You can go to any of the regional sites. We have a ton of useful information that producers might want to have access to right there on the web.
Another thing they can do is talk to their state environmental department or their state Ag Department. It's important that people know that a lot of American environmental protection is supposed to happen at the local and state levels. A person has a particular bone to pick, it might actually be with something that a state is doing, rather than EPA. So I'd always encourage folks to contact their state agency too.
Pam Fretwell: Alright, talking with Karl Brooks. He's with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. For Straight from the Heartland, I'm Pam Fretwell.