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EPA administrator tours Ernst Conservation Seeds

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Sean P. Ray
Meadville Tribune
October 9, 2020

UNION TOWNSHIP — Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler paid a visit to a Crawford County farm on Thursday, taking the time to talk with various northwestern Pennsylvania people involved in the agricultural industry and outlining some of the actions planned by the agency.

Wheeler's visit was hosted at the farm of Ernst Conservation Seeds, which grows 10,000 acres of native grasses and flowers. The seeds of the plants grown at the farm are often used in restoration and reclamation projects, and Ernst is the largest native seed producer and supplies in the eastern United States. Ernst founder and president Calvin Ernst gave appreciation for Wheeler coming to the farm to speak.

"This is a wonderful opportunity for us to understand what his problems are and what our problems are as we try to work on a better environment," Ernst said.

Wheeler, for his part, pressed the importance of the EPA working closely with those in the agricultural industry. He claimed the agency in the past has had an "adversarial" relationship with farmers, something he is trying to change.

"Farmers are the first environmentalists, they're the first conservationists," Wheeler said. "You know deep down that you have to protect the environment to continue to farm."

Wheeler highlighted a number of activities undertaken by the EPA during his administration that he viewed as assisting farmers. This included clarifying what constitutes "navigable water" under the Clean Water Act through the Navigable Waters Protection Rule that went into effect this past summer.

"I believe that our regulations should make sense and they should be easy to understand," he said.

The administrator said his office has been working with the Army Corps of Engineers to develop a set of guidelines for inspectors across the nation to unify definitions and standardize inspection requirements. A draft form of the guidance has been completed, and Wheeler said the final version should be realized by the end of the year.

"If you're a farmer in Pennsylvania, if you're a farmer in Iowa, California, Florida, when an inspector shows up, they should be using the exact same definitions and it shouldn't depend upon who visits your farm as to what is a federal waterway," he said.


Wheeler finished up his statements by saying he hoped to take a "more holistic approach to pesticides" in the next four years, should the Trump administration be awarded a second term in the upcoming election. He clarified that he wanted to make information regarding how the EPA processes and grants registrations to pesticides more clear.

"We need to do a better job as an agency explaining to the American people the approach we take when we register and license a pesticide," he said.

The administrator said the public often does not understand the process that pesticides go through for approval from the EPA, and that the agency needed to do a better job making the public feel more comfortable with the handling of pesticides.

Following his remarks, Wheeler took comments and questions from those in attendance and took a tour of the Ernst farm.

The stop in Crawford County was one in a series of events Wheeler attended in Pennsylvania. On Wednesday, he was in Pittsburgh to sign a memorandum of understanding with the Pennsylvania Aggregates and Concrete Association, while earlier on Thursday, he visited opportunity zones in Erie.


In addition to Wheeler, Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly was also present for the visit. Kelly praised the EPA administrator and other members of the Trump administration for coming into northwestern Pennsylvania.

"The old saying, of course, goes that 90 percent of life is showing up because when you show up, people know you care," Kelly said. "This is an administration that cares very deeply about every single American."

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