Commentary: Spin or Sincerity? Can a Leopard Change Its Spots?

Commentary: Spin or Sincerity? Can a Leopard Change Its Spots?

In today’s over-politicized, over-media-hyped, over-twitterized world, it is very difficult to sort out fact from fiction, honest rhetoric, and demagoguery. As a result, we have become very skeptical and cynical people. So, when Scott Pruitt said he was going to change the EPA, a lot of us said, “Yeah, right!”  Even last week when I got to sit down one-on-one, face-to-face with the administrator of the EPA for an on the record interview, I was still skeptical. I expected lots of vague and generalized answers.  What I got was something much different.

Scott Pruitt was one of the more controversial appointees to President Trump’s cabinet. Environmentalists hated him because he tried to sue the Obama EPA. Ethanol forces did not trust him because he had ties to big oil. While he promised reform, few in agriculture felt there would actually be a turnaround at the agency.

This skepticism was understandable. For the past 8 years, EPA had declared war on agriculture. The most egregious act was the implementation of the Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule. This was, without a doubt, one of the biggest government overreaches we have ever seen. Farmers found themselves being fined for plowing a field that had never had water in it. The vague definition in the regulation gave Washington control over a large percentage of the nation’s land.  When farmers complained, their concerns were not heard.  The agency was even caught attempting to manipulate public opinion using social media.

Yet, when Scott Pruitt says he wants to change things, he actually means it. During his recent trip to an Indiana farm, he made it clear to me, and to the group of farmers and state officials he met with, that there is a new way of doing business at EPA. He made it clear he is willing to listen, willing to give agriculture a seat at the table, and willing to engage in a dialogue about the environment.  He said he wants to work with farmers and understands their role in protecting the land and water. He said he wants to be aware and to minimize the economic consequences of EPA actions.

So is this just political opportunism or a real change? Since my visit with Pruitt, I have talked with a number of people who also spent time with the Administrator during his visit.  Randy Kron, President of Indiana Farm Bureau, likes what he heard and believes it is for real. Bruno Pigott, director of the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, also likes what he heard. He said the Administrator pledged to work with states to provide more clarity on regulations and to actually consult with IDEM and other state agencies to make state and federal regulations consistent and compatible.

The ultimate test will be what kind of EPA we have in 4 years. At this point, it looks like agriculture has a friend at EPA.  During my interview, Pruitt was very candid about the abuses of the past and also recognized it will take some time to build trust with the farming community. This is another indication that the change at the agency is for real. This does not mean we are going to get everything we want or that we will like everything that comes out of EPA. Yet, when we do have differences, we at least have someone at the top of the agency who will listen to agriculture’s point of view.

By Gary Truitt