There used to be a time, not that long ago, that it was seen as completely plausible for a federal agency to give away taxpayer dollars to a program slandering farmers.
Not so anymore.
At least not according to Ray Sterling, who is currently serving as special assistant to President Trump for agriculture, trade, and food assistance. In a speech to the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., Mr. Starling said: “This administration will not allow the EPA to give taxpayer dollars to activist groups who then turn around and put up billboards that attack our farmers and ranchers.”
Mr. Starling’s comments were directed at the EPA’s “What’s Upstream” scandal. Last spring, we learned that a significant portion of a $3 million grant from the Agency was being used to fund an advocacy campaign aimed at animal agriculture. Billboards, bus placards, radio ads, and an interactive website were purchased with the money. The “What’s Upstream” campaign’s purpose was to bring awareness to the alleged water pollution caused by “unregulated” agriculture. In particular, the billboards showed photographs of cows standing in a stream of water (something not allowed in the State of Washington) and stated: “Unregulated agriculture is putting our waterways at risk!”
After Senators James Inhofe and Pat Roberts called out the EPA for its funding of the campaign, the Agency admitted it had improperly funded the billboards and they were voluntarily taken down. The Senators called for a full investigation into the EPA’s grant and how the money was spent. According to Capital Press, we’re still waiting for a final report.
For farmers, Mr. Starling’s remarks are refreshing and, hopefully, the administration will keep this promise.
When non-farmers want to know why there seems to be such animosity between the agricultural community and the EPA, this is it right here. Of course, the EPA does a lot of good and worthwhile things. The oversight and regulation of pesticides is an important framework that allows farmers to use pesticides safely, protects our environment, and instills confidence in consumers. But that doesn’t mean we cannot have a nuanced approach that recognizes the EPA does some good things, and needs to be reigned in other ways (despite what partisanship might tell us). We can have it both ways.
Programs like the one that financed the “What’s Upstream” propaganda are the type of federal spending that deserves to be axed. We do not need a federal agency funding attack campaigns against family farmers. The campaign never should have received funds from the EPA. Nor should it take a couple Senators causing a ruckus for the Agency to realize this was a bad idea and stop it.
Farmers need to stay vigilant, despite these promises, but it sure would be nice for the EPA to work on our side for a change.