Thursday, March 31, 2011

EPA's Farm, Ranch, and Rural Communities Federal Advisory Committee

The EPA-established Farm, Ranch, and Rural Communities Federal Advisory Committee (FRRCC)  met for two days this week (March 29-30) in the Washington, DC area in the second of a series of more recent meetings specifically designed to produce a report for the EPA that advises the agency on how best to focus its efforts in protecting and improving water quality with respect to impacts from agricultural practices (see the meeting agenda here - pdf file).

EPA formed the FRRCC in 2008 to provide independent policy advice, information, and recommendations to the Agency on a range of environmental issues and policies that are of importance to agriculture and rural communities.  FRRCC members include representatives from academia, industry (e.g., agriculture and allied industries), non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and state, local, and tribal governments.

The past week's meeting included presentations for the Committee members on USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) conservation programs and specific water resource-agriculture issues across the US (Great Lakes and California).  Among the points presented were several directly relevant to Mississippi River Basin conservation.  Specifically:
  • The USDA is currently involved in discussions with the EPA and USGS (NAWQA Program) to develop a network of monitoring beyond the edge-of-field monitoring related to the NRCS Mississippi River Basin Initiative (MRBI), and (among other things with respect to monitoring) is exploring avenues with the EPA through which 319 grant money could be provided to NGOs for the NGOs to assist with monitoring efforts.
  • USDA is or will soon be focusing money and staff resources on high-priority landscapes (including the Mississippi River Basin) through Strategic Watershed Action Plans (SWATS) in an effort to improve technical assistance to farmers and landowners (See this March 16, 2011 testimony of NRCS Chief Dave White before the House Agriculture Committee where he discusses the SWAT initiative for the Chesapeake Bay - pages 6 and 7).
The meeting also included an update for Committee members by Larry Elworth (Agricultural Counselor to the EPA Administrator) on major issues currently in front of EPA with respect to the FRRCC mission.  That overview included discussion of the Fiscal Year 2011 Continuing Resolutions, Fiscal Year 2012 budget proposal and hearings, EPA Congressional oversight hearings (on ethanol, livestock, dust, milk spillage, pesticides, Chesapeake Bay), a review of the USDA NRCS CEAP and recent reports on the Upper Mississippi River Basin and other watersheds, the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau Chesapeake Bay lawsuit, Chesapeake Bay-centered pending legislation, and the various Florida Everglades lawsuits (five - now consolidated into one).

The FRRCC has divided itself into three workgroups to facilitate the development of the water quality report to EPA (with the target for report completion early this Fall).  The three workgroups are science, partnerships and resources (resources being both human and monetary).  The workgroups divided into break-out sessions and reported back to the entire committee with their results.  Here are some key workgroup conclusions, which will guide their report drafting work over the next several months:

Science Workgroup
EPA should focus on several key issues:
  • Models leading to standards (assure that real improvement will be achieved at the water quality standards developed through models; reduce or clarify the levels of uncertainty)
  • Data and monitoring (needs to be transparent and science-based; requires adequate funding)
  • Scientific evaluation and assessment of goals
  • BMPs (look at science behind the measurement of success; formalize interagency coordination)
  • Establishing TMDLs (see models, above)
  • Scientific research
Partnerships Workgroup
All partnership issues relate back to one and drive one fundamental issue, which is a lack of progress by all participants in achieving water quality goals.
What EPA needs to do:
  • Look to past and current successful partnership efforts as models
  • Utilize 319 grants, which make sense as partnership catalysts
Problem areas:
  • Data variability
  • Moving targets for farm community
  • Lack of comfort level among farmers
  • Confidentiality
  • High tensions among parties (need to be reduced to achieve progress)
Overall, EPA's philosophy should be to establish goals at the integrated, higher levels, but achieve results (take action) at the local level.  EPA needs to be at the table to help but not to regulate.

Resources Workgroup
EPA should:
  • Focus resources into planned programs and in key watershed.
  • Allign resources to focus on water quality-related issues at the Federal level but then allow (facilitate) the coordination of resource application at the local level.  
  • The coordination role-player needs to be local, trusted and be able to provide a long-term commitment (cannot be the EPA).  
  • Mid-level coordination can occur within the individual State Technical Committees.
The workgroup stressed that education is a critical resource need (both for farmers and for agencies).  Land grant universities could play a key education role.  They also noted that access to resources is just as critical as the amount of resources available at large (i.e., sometimes resources are authorized but not readily available to the farmer/landowner).  The Resources Workgroup also identified several areas where the workgroup needed more information from EPA to continue the workgroup's activities.

Full notes and other materials from the March meeting will be posted on the FRRCC meeting page within 60 days (i.e., by early June).  Past meetings' materials are posted already on that web page.  The next FRRCC meeting will be on June 22-23 in the Washington, DC area, and will be open to the public.


  1. Excellent overview, it pointed me out something I didn’t realize before. I should encourage for your wonderful work. . I am hoping the same best work from you in the future as well. Thank you for sharing this information with us.

  2. Thank you very much. I just visited your page and found it very interesting. Please keep up the good work.

  3. The key is that this be science based, and not responsive to the vagaries of politics and interest groups.