EPA head Andrew Wheeler talks dicamba, navigable waters in visit to West Bend farm

Grace Connatser
Wisconsin State Farmer
Andrew Wheeler, EPA administrator since February 2019, talks about Wisconsin issues.

US Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler visited Golden "E" Dairy Farms in West Bend Monday, June 15.

Wheeler spoke on many topics, including the EPA's relationship with Wisconsin farmers regarding hot-button issues such as navigable waters, transparency and the Dicamba pesticide ruling.

Wheeler said that the EPA is still trying to sort out court motions regarding the Dicamba ruling, including one filed by environmental groups that says the agency should be held in contempt of court for allowing continued use of the pesticides XtendiMax, FeXapan and Engenia.

"You have to take into account the fact that the pesticide has already been distributed," Wheeler said. "If you had it in your possession, you wouldn't have been able to ship it back to the manufacturer. So our order allows that to happen as an orderly process. This is what we typically go through every time we revoke a license for pesticide."

Although licenses for making and distributing dicamba products have been revoked, farmers are allowed to use them through the end of July this year.

The EPA also released a navigable waters protection rule in April, which explicitly stated the difference between federal waters and state waters. Wheeler said he hoped the rule would help farmers have more control over the water bodies on their land, including agricultural drainage ditches, which were defined as state waters.

"We wanted to make sure that we had a definition that people would understand, that they wouldn't have to hire an outside consultant or a lawyer," Wheeler said. "You shouldn't have to hire somebody to tell you what the federal regulation means."

Wheeler also announced that, for the first time ever, Future Farmers of America chapters could enter into a memorandum of understanding with the EPA, which would unite the two groups to achieve a common goal. Wheeler said the EPA will work with the next generation of farmers to create an alliance between FFA and EPA in working towards better education of high-school age farmers. 

Raising a milk toast with EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, left, during a tour at Golden E Dairy Farms in West Bend on June 15, 2020, was EPA Region 5 Administrator Kurt Thiede, DBA President Tom Crave, second from right, and WFBF President Joe Bragger, right.

The EPA has made 57 de-regulatory measures since President Trump took office, Wheeler added, and the agency plans on finishing another 38 de-regulatory measures before 2020 ends. He also said the EPA will be looking at changes to lead and copper piping rules in schools and daycare centers, as well as revisiting the Clean Air Act, Safe Drinking Water Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.

The agency will also be implementing new rules on ozone and particulate matter, such as dust, towards the end of this year as part of the new national ambient air quality standards.

Wheeler emphasized the agency's continued goal of staying transparent. 

"All of the science that we use for any regulatory decision, the underlying science has to be made made available to the public, and I think that's really important," Wheeler said. "When we're writing regulations, it's much better for people who are regulated to understand why we're doing the regulation that we're doing."

Other dairy industry leaders were also at the event, including Dairy Business Association President Tom Crave and Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation President Joe Bragger. State senator Duey Stroebel, R-Saukville, and Kurt Thiede, EPA Region 5 administrator appointed earlier this year, also attended. Ryan Elbe, co-founder of Golden "E" Dairy Farms, gave Administrator Wheeler a tour around the facilities.

"(We want) everybody to get a better understanding and better idea of what's going on with day-to-day dairy farming in the great state of Wisconsin," Elbe said.

Crave said that overly strict regulations on dairy farmers can hinder innovation, and he hopes that going forward the EPA will continue to have a good relationship with Wisconsin's agribusinesses.

"We welcome every opportunity to have open conversations with the EPA," Crave said. "It's critically important that we have a productive relationship, and that begins with open lines of communication."