EPA Administrator Michael Regan appeared before the House Committee on Agriculture, the first EPA head to do so since 2016, to defend the Biden administration's efforts to increase regulations on American farmers, including a Waters of the United States expansion to regulate ponds and streams for the third time in a decade.
Since Republicans currently hold the majority the chair seat is theirs but many on both sides are long-standing members, or have constituencies reliant on farming. I was not testifying or asking any questions so I watched from my office in California. I basically watched all of it so you don't have to do so.
While career scientists at EPA are as rigorous as any, the White House and its use of political appointees can still sway how things are done, and the Biden administration got right to work adding on to regulatory efforts unfinished since the Obama years.
EPA Administrator Michael Regan
Some tonal differences are obvious to anyone who has covered science for a while. Under Administrator Regan, EPA quickly moved from risk-based determinations of chemical levels and use to hazard-based regulations. A hazard is a harm that can occur, a risk is how likely that hazard is for you. Sharks are a hazard but your risk if you are in Tennessee is nothing. EPA has begun to switch to epidemiology, which ignores risk, and only considers hazard.
If you consider any dose a poison, in defiance of Paracelsus, then you can create a regulation that kicks in at any detection. That's a ban. Even if you call it a regulation, it is still a ban. The Biden administration has been really clever about parsing the language of science this way.
Both activists and detractors of more regulations invoke ' the science' but those need to be placed in context, so here are some thoughts and some fact-checking:
1. Regan says he wants to help farmers and use science - and then defends all some ways EPA has embraced epidemiology to overrule science and make things more expensive for farmers.
2. Regan says farmers need more regulations to protect farmers from climate change.
3. Regan says the courts are making him add new regulations with Waters of the United States. He cites the Endangered Species Act. Thought: He leaves out that it is his political party behind all three, not the courts - 70% of endangered species listings were done under two Democrats, despite actual endangered species being protected decades ago.(1)
4. Regan says the Biden administration's recent modifications of WOTUS, the third effort by Democrats in 10 years after being vacated twice, brings "clarity and consistency" to farmers. Thought: Having more clarity on what will allow environmentalists to generate nuisance lawsuits isn't helping farmers.
5. Regan deflects a question about why he has overruled his own toxicologists, biologists, and chemists in favor of epidemiology - and scientists in USDA. Thought: His agency has gotten so bad about overruling science that last year Congress criticized EPA for it.
6. When asked why EPA refused to listen to scientists on chlorpyrifos and atrazine and he said he had to comply with "the court." False: On atrazine, Regan's EPA asked the court to vacate their own science-based determination which led to its re-registration. So they could create a new one 400 below an already-determined lower conservative safe level, effectively banning it. On chlorpyrifos, the judge said nothing about a ban, EPA used non-standard wording to create an effective ban.
7. When asked about dicamba, Regan says they had to make limits that act as bans so farmers don't waste money using it incorrectly, then asks for more EPA funding. Thought: If you are new to government science, welcome to politics.
8. Regan again says he is bound by the Endangered Species Act and the courts when it comes to banning chemicals that EPA scientists found safe. Thought: There is no 'No Till' without weedkillers unless you burn a whole lot more fuel with machines. Which does he want? Global warming or more plowing?
9. PFAS "pose risk to consumers", Regan says, False: At high levels they are hazardous to animals. A few places have shown levels in excess of existing regulations but there is no increase in any diseases or conditions. There is only an epidemiological blip.
10. Thought: Why do politicians feel the need to state if they went to the same college or are even from a neighboring state with each other? To the public it is ridiculous. I get why Harvard students need to find a way to introduce their school into a conversation, they were dumb enough to take on $350,000 in student loan debt, but not why anyone else does.
11. Regan is touting how the Biden administration is creating "environmental justice and equity" by giving taxpayer money to groups who vote for Democrats. Thought: Affordable basic needs like food and energy are the best way to create equity, two things the Biden administration and EPA are causing to increase in cost.
12. Thought: How to tell people you are a Democrat without telling people you are a Democrat; dropping "forever chemicals" emotional verbiage, saying PFAS are "linked to chronic disorders" and blaming the military, then asking for financial settlements. That's Rep. Gabe Vasquez of New Mexico, to save you looking at the committee roster and deducing it.
13. Rep. Doug LaMalfa of California was able to repeat Regan saying they can help farmers by creating yet another loophole to 'exclude them from regulatory actions you're thinking about as good behavior' without laughing. LaMalfa's district is overwhelmingly wild land, and California is a desert so wildfires are routine, and he wants to know why EPA is asking courts to ban flame retardants - Phos-Chek, the stuff you see dropped from planes - and Regan had the same answer again; that it was due to a lawsuit.
14. On stopping wildfires, Regan said they had an agreement in place to allow Phos-Chek to continue to be used but was stumped when asked why EPA was using invisible particulate matter - PM2.5 - as the rationale to end prescribed burning that has been used since ancient times to limit wildfires. Thought: By limiting prescribed burning due to virtual pollution they are creating real pollution, PM10, and putting lives at risk.
15. Thought: Republicans would look better if they had fewer overweight Caucasian men on the ag committee. I don't know what percentage of farmers are white, I assume it is at least representative of the public, so surely 25 percent on camera can be something besides puffy white dudes. Then again, women might want less representation by Rep. Chellie Pingree too. Her softball statement-as-question about how awesome EPA is just led to a soliloquy by Regan. Like other Democrats, she blames the military for PFAS levels that were safe until the Biden administration got into office.
16. When asked how much of 'thumb on the scale' the White House was using in these decisions, Regan says the Biden administration delegated all of that to him. Thought: Who believes that this seismic shift occurred without any White House involvement? The heads of the CDC, OSHA, and FDA would all claim freedom from interference as well and we know it's not true.
17. Regan is touting how the Biden administration is creating "environmental justice and equity" by giving taxpayer money to groups who vote for Democrats. Back to WOTUS, Regan said they would push back their 2025 mandate, because it can't survive scientific, and therefore legal, challenges.
18. Regan says punitive inspections of conventional farmers - organic industry lobbyists have successfully kept their clients exempt - using a WOTUS regulation that has never been enacted will be scaled back.
19. On new EPA emissions standards, Regan says electric cars and more solar will help farmers by reducing climate change. Thought: The new emissions are obviously designed to mandate electric cars, not help farmers.
20. The Rep. from Illinois notes that electric car mandates are harmful to rural Americans, his district has 22 charging stations in 34 counties, Thought: He is against electric because he wants ethanol - which is terrible for everyone but farmers. Regular fuel that is better for cars, consumers, and the environment are what is needed until alternative energy and better batteries are ready. Right now, biofuels are not. Thought: electric cars are an environmental and financial boondoggle in current form but at least they will kill the useless ethanol program.(2)
21. Rep. Austin Scott asked the obvious "Where are the bodies?" question about why EPA has begun hyper-regulating products that haven't caused any cancer but have been "correlated" to it, and EPA has taken statistical claims at face value. His answer is political nothingness.
22. The Biden administration gets called out for hypocrisy on solar mandates and subsidies. If a solar subsidy makes fallow or timber land worth 40 percent more, and the government is advertising that and promoting taking advantage of the program, owners are going to cut down trees to put up solar panels. Thought: It is good for them, it is good for Democrats who have been responsible for nearly all American contributions to the $4 trillion on solar subsidies already spent, but it is bad for the environment. Republicans defending conservation when it comes to both farming and forests is a bad look for Democrats yet Regan has no defense for it.
23. A Colorado farmer trade rep asked why EPA has so much time to undo regulations from a few years ago and redo them to be a tiny fraction of the science-based level but no time to look at a weedkiller that beet producers need. The answer was somehow again, more time and funding needed. Regan says that environmentalists will sue if they give an emergency approval.
Thought: All they have to do is allow a product already approved in Europe by bureaucrats even more hostile to chemicals than the current EPA.
24. Rep. Adams' district must have no farms, or they vote Republican so she likes making them do more pointless paperwork. Thought: EPA using the The Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act of 1986, which requires disclosure of hazardous chemicals so communities can plan for emergencies as needed, to make farmers report emissions from animal feed is the kind of nonsense tactic that makes rural people vote for any Republican, no matter how bad they are.
25. Regan again says the courts are making him target agriculture but that he loves agriculture. Thought: His father was a career government employee, including 14 years as an extension agent telling farmers how to farm. Farmers probably don't feel like he cares about them, but it is easy to see why he believes more regulations are needed and thus is the perfect Biden administration official.
26. Again with the claim he is forced to target farmers by environmental lawsuits - it takes years to get this under FOIA but as sure as I am sitting here writing we are going to find out the Biden administration or someone delegated inside EPA negotiated nearly all of these with environmental lawyers in advance.
27. Back to ethanol, Rep, Johnson boxes Regan into committing that he will make E15 the standard, which will alarm those already worried about E10. But not nationwide.
28. Rep. Crockett is talking about the debt ceiling and SNAP funding. If you didn't already know her district includes more airports than farms, you do now. She then says she is happy EPA is giving lawyers new ways to sue, which is a weird flex.
29. Regan is clearly flustered that Rep. Mann asked why EPA ignored all USDA scientists in its new 'regulation as ban' level of the herbicide atrazine. He says, wait for it, "this was remanded back to us by a court." As stated in #6, this is false. They asked the court to vacate their own science-based standard and asked an environmental group to sue for a new epidemiology one. That is how they can say the courts 'made' them do it.
30. Thought: Atrazine is an oddly political product for being one most can't name. The Bush administration had two reviews, and the first one I supported, until I found out that the Hayes paper claiming it "turned frogs gay", as he phrased it, was only peer-reviewed by a friend of his and contained no data. The Obama administration had another one. Then it was time to re-register again. And now this weird flip from the science.
31. He is flustered again. When asked why he pursued enforcement of WOTUS before the Supreme Court had a chance to rule on it he said, "there was no rule in place in theory." Thought: So they are short on staff but had time to spend redoing a never-enacted Obama rule without knowing that the Sackett decision will be? What?
32. Regan made clear that USDA scientists are only there for advice. Yet if he also ignores his own scientists, it is signaling that EPA is the boss, and if they switch to regulation by epidemiology it explains a lot. Thought: Rep. Bishop is an old school Blue Dog Democrat. We need more of those, along with sensible Republicans.
33. On ethanol, Regan again says the law dictates a lot of their regulations. I am starting to wonder if he is using the term 'science' in a way anyone outside EPA understands.
34. Rep. Feenstra says ethanol saves us $.90 a gallon, so he definitely is not using 'saves' in a way anyone who buys gasoline understands. But he is from Iowa which, liked I noted in the footnote, was the reason Al Gore got ethanol mandated. Back then, their caucus was the opening of the Presidential campaign so corn farmers carried outsized weight.
35. Rep. Feenstra asked Regan to compare tailpipe emissions to the flatulence of a cow. He means burps when it comes to methane, but I get his point. His point being that if the Biden administration will use the Clean Air Act to rebuild the automobile industry in his preferred image, can he do it to farms? Regan says that is not their mandate, but using Chevron Deference' the President can just change their mandate.
36. Rep. Soto has interesting framing. He cheers more regulations and boos climate change causing hurricanes, if he name-dropped Frankenfood and autism causing vaccines he'd fit right into the Democratic party of 2016, but then he mentions his state had to get a waiver on a pesticide to combat citrus greening and asks if new pesticides will be helpful. Regan is a little disappointing in that he doesn't take the chance to actually endorse science when it was right there, he instead asks for more money. Again.
37. Rep Miller brings up solar subsidies and what they do to the environment, then adds in electric car batteries. Google says she is on the 'far right' of the Republican party but on this she sounds like any Democrat with a farming district 25 years ago. She asks if EPA regulates solar panels and Regan says they do not, but then says they regulate everything. She then reads the EPA listing of hazardous materials which are included in solar manufacturing. She gets him to commit that EPA will not trespass on farms claiming federal authority. That is some "Columbo" stuff right there.
38. Regan says solar panel makers want them back and that landfills take them. False: There is no viable recycling of solar panels and nearly all landfills do not take them.
39. How to tell us you are a Democrat from Austin without telling us you are a Democrat from Austin. See anything ever said by Rep. Greg Casar. It is 5 minutes of nothing but cheering government and three softball statements that allow Regan to editorialize. The organic free-range plant milk farmers that must populate Austin are happy.
40. Rep. Rose from Tennessee is also on atrazine. Two years ago when I talked to DC people about EPA allowing agencies like Fish and Wildlife to have input, they were okay with it because they would use real-world data. It seems no one expected the Biden administration EPA to throw out all science entirely.
41. "We regulate just about everything in this country" is back to haunt Regan.
42. Regan states plainly his EPA does not engage in sue-and-settle agreements. FOIA will tell us if that is true. If so, this is a big switch from the Obama administration. It may be that he is parsing his words carefully when he notes they instead follow the law. As stated, his agency will ask a court to void their own science and make them redo it. If there is no email with NRDC writing the new rule he can technically say there is no prearranged deal.
43. Rep. De La Cruz stumped him right out of the gate. She asked him why he banned dimethyl tetrachloroterephthalate (DCPA) and he had no idea. Thought: While the Biden administration is way over on the ban-happy side when it comes to weedkillers, they are not wrong here. AMVAC has had 9 years to get the data EPA needs for reregistration.
44. Her next question isn't so easy. She wants to know why a chemical that is known to be safe takes 10 years to get approved for use on produce. He falls back on the Endangered Species Act again, and environmental lawsuits, and then, wait for it, more money. Thought: They got more money for registration fees charged to companies and more funding from Congress. He says that all goes to lawyers.
45. I don't even know what "the home of the most diverse agricultural state in the country with regular access to water" means, but maybe Rep. Slotkin doesn't know what it means when I tell people "I led this club in ninth inning doubles in the month of August", so we're even.
46. How to tell us you are a Democrat without telling is you are a Democrat: Saying Flint, Michigan was an "apocalyptic poisoning of an American city." Thought: She is not the rep. for Flint and never has been and Flint water led to one brain defect. The water there had the same lead as 70 percent of the US when I was a kid. Where is all the brain damage if 'no known safe level of lead because biology is diverse' is transformed by into 'any lead causes brain damage'? It sure isn't science.
47. She insists her PFAS claims are "based on science" and there there was no scientific standard on drinking water. Does she mean before the Biden administration there were no regulations? How do staffers let their bosses say this stuff? She then claims people lost their farms due to PFAS. This is the first time I feel like the 5 minutes spent listening to a committee member lowered my intelligence.
48. Atrazine again? Seriously, this is going to be a farming problem and no (other) journalists are talking about it. But Rep. Alford was a journalist so he is asking the awkward question, namely why the equivalent level of concern was reduced 400 percent, to the level it can be detected at all, and if EPA was going to look at science data they had sitting around before making a final decision. Regan immediately punted and said he would have to find out from his staff what studies were included. That was smart. Alford had him on that one. He did get Regan to agree we "definitely want to use the best scientific data" but that is easy to go around. He can just say the best 'scientific' data is epidemiology and not actual science, like chemistry, biology, and toxicology.
49. After telling us his agency regulates almost everything, Regan now says EPA had no involvement in the Biden administration wanting to ban gas stoves. He won't say they are safe but he does say his mom loves hers and she is safe. Hey mom, if you are cooking, can I get a plate? You can bet she'd say yes, because Regan seems like a man who was well-raised.
50. I've never met Rep. Gluesenkamp Pérez but she sounds like the kind of Blue Dog Democrat family that birthed me, and is rare in 2023. Her concerns affirm that. It is easy for the Biden administration to say 'go electric' while she knows that there aren't enough electricians now, and 'the trades' are frowned upon by the elites who run the Democratic party, so forcing new electric cars in rural areas would be devastating. Regan says it's only a proposal. Thought: He really means you yokels have until 2027 to get on Biden's Prius train.
51. Rep, Langworthy notes that by doing nothing different than what they were doing before President Biden took office, one of his constituents will be on the hook for $56,000 per day in penalties if WOTUS becomes law. Thought: Lawyers and politicians keep saying ' that won't happen' but 2,000,000 family farms also remember when lawyers said predatory ADA lawsuits would not happen, and lawsuits over Prop 65 in California would not happen. If it can happen, and a lawyer can cash a check, it will.
52. Rep. Duarte is famous for getting a huge fine for plowing a wheat field to plant wheat, using the Clean Water Act. Which EPA refused to prosecute so the Obama administration got the Army Corps of Engineers and the Department of Justice environmental group to do. And they won, because these things are so poorly written if government has an agenda they will use it against you. And WOTUS is even worse. which he knows. Thought: Regan clearly has no interest in allowing chlorpyrifos regardless of what farmers or scientists say.
53. Rep. Brown had a great question about pesticides but it was wasted with a response about funding and lawsuits. She is concerned about pesticides in her district among people of color and he brings her back from the race issue by saying that air and water need to be clean for everyone. Sometimes politicians need to save other politicians from themselves. Well done, Administrator.
54. Ethanol is an even bigger issue than weedkillers on this committee. E15 is a waste of money and harmful to cars and the environment, but he is not biting on giving them a year-round sales window. Everyone not a corn seller or making money selling it knows this is a bad idea. Regan is right in saying he is not doing it.
55. Rep. Costra had to learn science after he got onerous pollution standards implemented and discovered that geology in his district, a valley, didn't obey his political beliefs - and now his constituents are on the hook for penalties under regulations he wanted. He is talking down to Regan, doing that 'Do you know that?' series of questions and then telling him he can save EPA from itself. Thought: Democrats love regulations and fines to force compliance until it impacts them.
56. Rep. Van Orden was a Navy SEAL and objected to previous Democratic claim that by objecting to bloat included in the latest budget proposal, they were holding SNAP funds for women and children 'hostage.' Republicans have a weird flex too.
57. Now both a Democrat and a Republican have used insulting questions to talk down to Regan. Regan finally balked at what he termed an 'absurd statement' that electric cars created child slavery. Thought: Like anyone with a clue, I know where cobalt is coming from, but just as I object to Democratic claims that Republicans are causing illegal immigrant child slavery by having immigration rules, Republicans shouldn't say it about cars and Democrats either.
58. Rep. DesJarlais asked what a lot of us have asked. Why rush to start inspecting farms and imposing penalties when it's a Supreme Court case? Regan says again that there was a 'void' which sounds like 'government abhors a vacuum' - there was a void because two other administrations had said it was not worth the court time. Yet this one not only said it was worth it, they started doing inspections - which Regan now said he was stopping early and acted like he was on the side of farmers by halting the punitive behavior his agency started,
59. Rep. Baird asked about the jurisdictional change proposal to change animal products from EPA to FDA, which concerns ranchers. He asked for an extension to discuss it and Regan said he would 'inquire' about the extension. Baird asked about why EPA was involved in so much litigation and how EPA might fix that. Thought: I referenced Columbo earlier and this is instead Matlock smarts by Baird. We all know why EPA is always in court; they want to be in court because a President can use Chevron Deference to create regulations that act as laws without Congress, and then use the courts to say 'the courts made us do it.' Regan's EPA has literally asked courts to vacate old decisions so EPA can create new ones that progressives want. Thought: Biotech is a real mess in the US. We aren't overtly anti-science, like Europe, but our approval process is stuck in the 1980s. It should not take a over a decade just to approve a fish that grows faster than the same fish from another side of the country when California is having to shut down fisheries to avoid wild depletion. Wild caught and sustainable are not interchangeable but wealthy elites turn up their noses at farms - because government treats them like new medical devices. Baird did really well for the ag community in 5 minutes here.
60. Regan again said he loves pesticides and is ready to authorize new ones but needs more funding in response to a softball Democrat question. Thought: If he stopped greenlighting things he knows will be tied up in court, he'd have more money for EPA to do its job.
61. Rep. Finstad, a Republican, is an "1883" style legacy farmer and is not providing that 'your dad was a government agent telling farmers what to do so you're like us' creampuff approach that others have given Regan. We all know USDA does not want EPA being the Golden Child for the Biden agenda and telling farmers what to do, and farmers dislike EPA even more than USDA bureaucrats. Unfortunately, that's all there is. We know the new EPA is unscientific regarding pesticides and no one but Regan and his allies believe 'the court standard was too high' for Chlorpyrifos. Then a frustrated Regan said he didn't want USDA telling him how to do his job either. False:
A judge being 'frusrated' did not cause EPA to just ban it. Regan really seemed flustered by having to claim something everyone knows is nonsense.
62. Finstand notes that EPA has allowed 0 meetings of the Ag Science committee during the Biden years, on any topic. Thought: This is a devastating blow to claims by Regan that he follows the science and wants input from farmers.
63. Rep. Craig touts the awfully misnamed Inflation Reduction Act and pivoting to 'greener' options but is then critical because the equally awful ethanol standard isn't higher. Regan says EPA waits until the last minute to issue E15 waivers because, wait for it, the courts.
False: Who is suing? Farmers? Environmentalists who got this mandated during the Clinton administration? We all know it is done last minute because the Biden administration wants concessions from Republicans.
64. Rep. Chavez-DeRemer is a Republican...for Oregon? When is the last time that happened? The Republican wave journalists say never happened in 2022 elected a Republican in Oregon. Her question was about rodenticides and if EPA would use science, which would make approval faster for products overall.
65. Food as a strategic resource is back again but Rep. Tokuda makes it about her poor constituents too. Regan again says they are giving money to allied groups in the name of equity using environmental justice. She complains about federal regulations on cesspools and says it impacts people in an expensive state like Hawaii more - yet Hawaiians want it to be expensive. They make it expensive. Thought: He's a good guy, and really shines when he issues these platitudes about justice and equity, but that is not their mandate. The supermajority of Endangered Species listings are by the state of Hawaii, not the federal government. They use no science.
66. Republicans are not hostile to calling EPA 'hostile.' Rep Cammack asks him a list of 'off in the weeds' questions about farming and then notes how much EPA's weird arcane work plan, like vegetation filter strips, actually costs farmers. Regan says he is glad they are having the conversation and defers to his staff. Which is like 'we'll get back to you' in Hollywood.
67. Regan again says his desire to implement WOTUS for the third time was not his choice, the Clean Water Act made him do it. False:
Saying that is annoying to people who know how these things work. He could have said almost anything and it could at least not have created scorn - but claiming he is forced to obey the Clean Water Act and it demands puddles and streams on farms have federal agents with guns on private land is ridiculous.
68. Rep Molinaro brings up the EPA mandate on electric cars again. Regan says that was only a proposal and the private sector was behind it. False:
Just because a car manufacturer stands with you on a podium because the government is giving them billions of dollars under the spectacular failure known as the Chips and Science Act does not mean it is their doing. If it was their idea, you wouldn't need to force them.
Final thought: Overall, he did well. Regan is impossible not to like, and the Biden administration needs Regan and Vilsack to be likable at a time when his most of his agency picks are as likable as Rahm Emanuel. But that can only carry you so far. If everything you do is because of the courts, we don't need an EPA. If you regulate everything but then say the private sector is doing it voluntarily, we don't need an EPA.
Yet we do need an EPA. What we don't need is an EPA so intent on fighting old fights from the last two administrations that they overrule scientists and find epidemiologists who agree with them and use that for decisions.
Which is unfortunately would be Regan's legacy if he resigned tomorrow.
(1) They did it by changing the definition of endangered from actually endangered in its natural habitat to perhaps being impacted in a computer model in the next 100 years.
(2) Yes, farmers benefit from that, but ethanol was only ever a political stunt - Vice-President Al Gore broke the tie in the Senate to get it implemented, and later admitted he didn't do it because he believed environmentalists who claimed biofuels were science, he did it to appeal to Iowa corn farmers to help for his 2000 campaign run.
Fact Check And Thoughts On EPA's Michael Regan Testifying At The Congressional Agricultural Committee
By Hank Campbell | April 19th 2023 07:15 AM | Print | E-mail
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