U. S. Environmental Protection Agency vs. Agriculture… Inevitable? Maybe not.

There is a widespread belief that it is us vs. them when it comes to the relationship between the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Agricultural Industry.  I would submit that it doesn’t have to be that way.

I recently had the opportunity along with the VALOR fellows to visit the EPA in Washington and learn about the relationship between EPA and Agriculture from EPA’s perspective.  It was our pleasure to meet with Ms. Sarah Bittleman, Senior Agricultural Counselor, EPA.  Ms. Bittleman came to the EPA this past February from the U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) where she served as Senior Advisor to Secretary Tom Vilsack.  Prior to working at USDA , she worked for the Department of the Interior, the U. S. Senate and the House of Representatives on a range of policy and strategic issues including Agriculture, Energy, Natural Resources, Native Americans and Climate Change.  She brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to EPA.

One of her roles at EPA is advising the Administrator and Senior Agency Staff on ways which complex environmental issues may impact the agricultural industry.  It is refreshing to learn that Ms. Bittleman with her knowledge and background in Agriculture is at EPA and sharing her perspectives.  During our time together she indicated the following about her role.  My role here includes communicating with the agriculture industry how EPA works and its interaction with agriculture AND communicating with the EPA how the Agricultural Industry interacts with EPA.  Hmmmm… seems like a two way street, hopefully it is possible that with folks at EPA like Ms. Bittleman and like minded folks in agriculture that the tenuous relationship between the two can be enhanced by some real dialogue to resolve important issues. 

There is much to be gained on both sides when they can sit at the table together and have a conversation about their roles, responsibilities, and how each impact the well being of our nation.

Thanks to Ms. Bittleman for her time, her expertise and her willingness to share with us.  When she left  USDA to come to EPA  Secretary Vilsack was quoted with the following, “Sarah has done extraordinary work at USDA, often putting in the extra hours to get things done.  She knows how to get ‘yes’ regardless of the challenge, while providing a careful and balanced approach on wide ranging policies.” And further, “ She will be missed at USDA but will make a great addition at EPA.  I know her commitment to rural America will serve EPA and all of us well into the future.”

It is my hope that the Agriculture Industry can work with the EPA and vice versa to get a ‘yes’ that meets the needs of everyone.

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