March 27, 2011
By: Robert Rodriguez, the Fresno Bee
The head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency made her first trip to the Valley on Wednesday to get a firsthand look at how farmers are using technology and innovation to reduce air emissions and conserve water.
Lisa Jackson, EPA administrator, toured two Fresno County farms and later met privately with a group of farmers and ranchers.
Jackson said she was impressed with the work Valley farmers are doing to lessen their negative effect on the environment.
And she appreciated their cooperation.
“There are some parts of the country where it’s a win in the ag sector if we just went away,” Jackson said. “But that is not the posture at all here in the Valley.”
For years, Valley farmers have been working to comply with air-quality standards from government regulators, and to reduce their use of water. It hasn’t been easy. Some farmers have spent tens of thousands of dollars to convert diesel engines to cleaner-burning machines. Others have installed costly drip irrigation to reduce water consumption.
Westside farmer Don Camerson said he was pleased that Jackson visited his ranch Wednesday. She also toured J & L Vineyards near Easton.
“It was very positive,” Cameron said. “It’s important for her to be able to meet one-on-one with farmers so that the next time they are creating new regulations they may remember us.”
Cameron is among the farmers who have used government funding to help pay for replacing older pumping equipment with newer, cleaner-burning equipment. Cameron swapped natural gas water pumps for electric-powered pumps that produce no harmful emissions.
At J & L Vineyards, Jackson heard about the Jacobsen family’s use of water-saving drip irrigation and the reduced use of pesticides to control bugs and weeds.
Ryan Jacobsen said he hopes Jackson gets a better understanding of the issues California farmers face and how they are dealing with them.
“There is no doubt that what we are doing is a step above the rest of the country,” Jacobsen said. “But we also want her to know how difficult it can be when the rules begin to add up.”
Jackson said part of her goal in meeting with farmers was to hear their concerns.
She, along with Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, met privately with a group of farmers and agriculture-industry leaders.
“The whole purpose is to communicate with each other and not talk at each other, which happens a lot in Washington,” Jackson said.
“And I want them to know that we understand their concerns.”
Among the concerns raised by farmers was the fate of methyl iodide, a powerful fumigant that some environmental groups are trying to ban. Famers use fumigants to clear the soil of harmful pests and disease, but environmental groups say it is a threat to public health.
Jackson said that while her agency is reviewing a petition trying to block the fumigant’s use, she stood by the EPA’s decision to register the chemical.
“I assured the farmers that any decision we make is based on science and not emotion,” Jackson said.
“But the EPA has evaluated methyl iodide and will evaluate any new information, but we believe it can be used safely.”