Three Agricultural-Related Predictions for 2013

Baseball icon Charles Dillon “Casey” Stengel once said, “Never make predictions, especially about the future.”  While it’s difficult to argue with such wisdom, I’m going to go out on a limb and make a few predictions as it relates to agricultural-related issues in 2013.

Prediction One: Expect that modern agriculture will continue to be judged based on emotion and sensation over rational and (established) science, at least in the public forum.  The most recent agricultural target has been Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).  And one of the most recent and egregious examples of pandering to the emotional debate was on the popular Dr. Oz Show.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, in discussing (what is becoming) the highly emotional issue of GMOs, invited Mr. Jeffery Smith to be a guest on his program where GMO’s were discussed.  Who is Jeffery Smith?  According to a blistering letter from Dr. Bruce Chassy, Professor Emeritus, Department of Food Science & Nutrition, University of Illinois, to the Producer of the Dr. Oz Show, he is not exactly an “expert.”  Dr. Chassy states in the letter that, “Mr. Smith has no accredited or formal education in any health, nutrition, or other related science fields.  Research into Mr. Smith’s credentials reveals that his only professional experience prior to taking up his crusade against biotechnology is as a ballroom dance teacher, yogic flying instructor and political candidate for the Maharishi cult’s natural law party.”

Guests such as Mr. Smith probably make for much better ratings than say a plant geneticists such as Dr. Pamela Ronald (UC Davis) who said, “There is broad scientific consensus that genetically engineered crops currently on the market are safe to eat.”  And nutritionist Dr. Ruth Kava’s who said “The fact is that GE products have been safely consumed by just about every American for more than 16 years…”

The food production debate is very significant, though not well understood by the (well fed) general public in developed nations. Science and reason must lead the way – we can’t afford to “get this wrong.”

Nevertheless, sensationalism sells.  Look for more attacks on modern agriculture.

Prediction Two:  Drought conditions may cause a closer look at water management and conservation.  The drought of 2012 put increased pressure on farmers; some crops were a total loss.  Will we come out of this current dry pattern in the spring, or is this part of a longer-term pattern?  This is a prediction best left for meteorologists.  But we saw firsthand the impact of the drought as we assisted a crop farmer earlier this year in assessing the impact of his groundwater withdrawal on the local aquifer.  Solutions to reduced groundwater supply are not always easy, but ignoring the fact that an aquifer is stressed can lead to dire consequences.

Prediction Three:  Environmental enforcement may get aggressive.  The Environmental Protection Agency recently announced that, “In FY 2012, EPA enforcement actions required companies to pay over $200 million in civil penalties (administrative and judicial) – an all time record amount.”  The same report states that EPA criminal prosecutions resulted in $44 million in criminal fines and restitution, and EPA enforcement actions required companies to “invest” more than $9 billion in actions & equipment to control pollution.

The EPA has made it clear that enforcing environmental laws is one of their top priorities. In their FY 2011-2015 Strategic Plan, Goal 5 is Enforcing Environmental Laws.  The EPA states, “Vigorous enforcement supports EPA’s ambitious goals to protect human health and the environment.”

Consider this environmental enforcement climate in light of the May 2013 deadline for Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasure Plans for agriculture.  If you are not certain of your compliance status, we would again encourage you to use the on line tool developed by National Milk Producers Federation and USDA.  Even if you are not a dairy producer, you can use this tool to evaluate the applicability of the SPCC rules to your farm.

All of this said…like economists and weather forecasters – I make no guarantees on my predictions.

I wish you a joyous Holiday Season with friends and family and a prosperous 2013.

Alan Hahn

ahahn@dragun.com

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Best Management Practices: Excess Soils

The Ontario Ministry of the Environment (MOE) has provided a Best Management Practices (BMP) Document for addressing excess soils.  The draft document, “Soil Management – A Guide For Best Management Practices” was made available in November 2012. http://www.downloads.ene.gov.on.ca/envision/env_reg/er/documents/2012/011-7523.pdf

This is a BMP guidance document – all Ontario environmental regulatory requirements are still applicable.

The purpose of the document, according to the MOE, is “to provide guidance and outline best management practices for the management of excess soils generated from redevelopment and construction projects.”

The MOE is suggesting the use of a Qualified Person (QP) as defined in O.Reg. 153/04 to assist in the development of soil management plans.  Some of the recommendations for “source sites” include the following:

  •  Development of a plan that identifies areas to be excavated with detailed instructions to contractors
  •  Characterization of soils by a QP
  •  Testing of soils for appropriate parameters
  •  Documentation of removed soil and that it is appropriate for the receiving site

For commercial fill and other large “receiving sites,” the MOE recommends that the owner “undertake public consultation sufficient to ensure that the local community and land owners are aware of the proposal and have an opportunity to comment on the proposal.”  They also recommend the use of a QP to develop a fill management plan that would include the following:

  •  Copies of applicable permits/zoning requirements
  •  Appropriate characterization of soil based on the land use/sensitivity, etc…
  •  Dust and noise controls
  •  Traffic management
  •  Record keeping

The draft guidance document provides much more detailed information.

Anytime you are dealing with excess soils at a site, you want to carefully manage the soils to avoid excessive and unnecessary costs, limit local disruptions, avoid future liability, and document your best management practices.

If you have questions about developing a proper management plan for excess soils, contact Christopher Paré, P.Geo. (cpare@dragun.com) at 519-979-7300.

Environmental Enforcement – What Can We Expect?

As we await the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) annual enforcement action summary (typically in November or December), we might gain some insight on the FY 2012 results by looking at some current enforcement action, as well as, last year’s enforcement results.

For FY 2011 EPA Compliance and Enforcement was very busy, including $168 million in assessed penalties, an additional $25 million in “additional investments” for supplemental environmental projects (SEPs), and 89.5 years of incarceration for “environmental criminals.”  According to the EPA, “enforcement actions required companies to invest an estimated $19 billion in actions & equipment to control pollution (injunctive relief) – an EPA record (their emphasis).

One recent environmental enforcement story seems to indicate this trend will continue.  In the publication, “Environmental Compliance Alert,” their headline story was about a glassware factory’s Clean Air Act (CAA) violation.  The CAA violation cost the company in excess of $10 million!

Interestingly, the actual violation (failure to apply for a preconstruction permit to limit NOx and PM emissions) dates back to 1999.  As you can imagine, all of this triggered “protracted enforcement negotiations with the EPA, the US Justice Department, and New Jersey’s attorney general.”

So where has all this enforcement been taking place?  The EPA has developed an interesting interactive map that provides detailed information about the civil enforcement actions taken by the EPA, criminal cases prosecuted by the EPA, and cases in which the EPA provided “significant support to cases prosecuted under state criminal laws.”

What can the regulated community expect in 2013 and beyond?  We’ll not speculate but, it is our hope that the nation’s top environmental agency will focus on true environmental protection and not aim at breaking enforcement records.

Finally, considering the potential “enforcement climate” and in the spirit of capitalism and shameless self-promotion, we’ll remind you that we get it.  Our job is to use our knowledge of science, engineering, and regulations to find solutions, which includes saving you money.  We’re not bashful in our defense of science and reason, including how we helped our client avoid spending $5 million in environmental remediation.  We will also say, in no uncertain terms, that our solution provided better environmental protection than would have been afforded had the $5 million been spent.  This, in our mind, is environmental consulting.

As 2013 unfolds, we’ll keep an eye on the environmental enforcement trends, and we will keep you informed on our observations.

In the meantime, we wish everyone a happy, restful, and joy-filled Holiday Season.