Stenholm, NRDC Spar on Atrazine

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Former Representative Charles Stenholm published an opinion piece in The Hill on March 23, questioning the administration's handling of energy and agriculture issues, including atrazine. NRDC responded, and spurred a response from Rep. Stenholm. See the exchange below:

Obama's energy and ag policies not selling in rural America 
By Former Rep. Charles Stenholm (D-TX) - 03/23/10 
It is convenient for some to see the results of the 2006 and 2008 elections as a mandate for the enactment of a more extreme progressive agenda.  In actuality, many of the Democratic victories in those elections were won in moderate, rural communities – places where traditional liberal policies are not popular.  

Recent polls show that only 23% of American voters consider themselves “liberal,” and I am confident this percentage is much lower in rural America.  The same polls tell us that some 77% consider themselves either “moderate” or “conservative.”  The fact is, all members are going to be facing a tough election cycle this year – and it will be made even tougher because the policies pursued by many of them have lost the approval of most moderate voters.  

This has certainly been the case with the government’s energy and agriculture policies. They may be red meat to the liberal base but they are crippling rural America and commercial agriculture.

Cap-and-trade legislation is perhaps the most publicized example of an extreme policy attack on the agriculture industry. Commercial agriculture relies heavily on energy prices, and this legislation threatened to inflate these prices across the board. When Congress dropped cap-and-trade due to lack of popular support, the EPA stepped into the breach and announced that it would begin regulating greenhouse gasses as a pollutant under the Clean Air Act. This is such a radical case of bureaucratic overreach that Congress is now telling EPA that it has stepped outside its legal authority.  Why did EPA attempt to do what they did?  To please a more extreme non-scientific viewpoint.

This same bureaucratic overreach has abandoned science to unnecessarily pursue new regulations on atrazine. Atrazine is an invaluable herbicide that has been in common use in commercial agriculture since 1959. It is estimated that atrazine saves corn farmers $28 per acre in input costs and yield advantages – the difference between staying in business and going bankrupt for thousands of farms across the country.

There are more than 6,000 studies on file supporting atrazine's safety and effectiveness, as well as international reviews by the World Health Organization, Australia, Canada, France, and the United Kingdom. The EPA recently completed a comprehensive study in 2006 and concluded that atrazine poses no risk to humans.  The review also showed that atrazine levels in water are well within the extraordinarily wide margins of safety set by the EPA.

Responding to pressure from the National Resource Defense Council, however, the agency announced last October that it would convene four new Scientific Advisory Panels (SAP) to re-investigate the herbicide.  At the SAP kick-off meeting in November, the scientific chairman remarked that the proceedings were “out of the ordinary.” I agree. And I would add that if farmers across the Midwest see their livelihoods threatened by activist regulation in the EPA, and Congress does nothing to stop it, voters in rural areas won’t be treating candidates too kindly in the coming election.

The same thing is happening on the West Coast, where policies enacted to please the extreme left in California have put the value of a fly and a smelt over the livelihoods of its own citizens and the billions of dollars generated by its agriculture sector. A similarly mis-guided policy was the closure of all USDA-regulated horse processing plants in 2007, which wrecked the market for horses and increased the number of unwanted horses to unsustainable levels. Some estimates put the number of potentially lost jobs in the next few years at 500,000. Congress could help stop the bleeding by reinstating funding for the USDA inspectors of horse processing plants.  Instead, members have proposed new legislation in H.R.503/S.727 that will further destroy the market for horses and jobs in the horse industry.  

I commend the Obama Administration and Congress for beginning to focus on creating jobs and ways to put Americans back to work.  Unfortunately the government’s current policies are job losers in rural America, pure and simple – not just for farmers, but everyone who either sells to them or buys from them. That’s pretty much everyone in America. Unless the Administration and Congress change course soon their electoral prospects may be derailed.

Former Rep. Charles Stenholm (D-Tex.) served 13 terms in the U.S. House of Representatives and was the Ranking Member of the House Committee on Agriculture.  He is a Co-Founder of the Congressional Blue Dog Coalition

On March 25, NRDC's Jennifer Sass Responded...
EPA foe Stenholm lobbies for maker of toxic chemical
By Jennifer Sass, Ph.D., senior scientist, Natural Resources Defense Council - 03/25/10
In a March 23 letter to The Hill, former Rep. Charles Stenholm (D-Texas) asserts that the weed killer atrazine is “an invaluable herbicide.” He goes on to accuse the Environmental Protection Agency of “bureaucratic overreach” because the EPA is fulfilling its statutory obligation to assess the health risks of this toxic chemical.

What the former congressman doesn’t mention is that the $11 billion Swiss company Syngenta — which sells atrazine to American farmers — paid Stenholm’s Washington law firm, Olsson Frank Weeda, $190,000 in lobbying fees last year alone, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Stenholm’s letter to The Hill, moreover, comes fresh on the heels of Syngenta’s latest press release, March 2, hailing atrazine as “safe to use.” Stenholm’s letter is largely a condensation of Syngenta’s own PR material.

Atrazine, in fact, is a known endocrine disruptor. It has been tied to poor sperm quality in humans, birth defects in humans and lab animals, and even sex change in lab frogs. An estimated 33 million Americans drink atrazine in their water, according to The New York Times.

This chemical can’t even be used in Syngenta’s backyard; the European Union has banned it. Instead, the company pays lobbyists like Stenholm to protect its use here in our country.

The NRDC has no financial interest in atrazine but has litigated on the EPA review process and has publicly advocated for phasing out atrazine use.

The EPA has an obligation to protect the American people from this hazardous chemical. And The Hill has a responsibility to inform its readers when we are being exposed to corporate propaganda of a Swiss chemical company.

Rep. Stenholm's Response:
Bad science means bad regulations for farmers
From former Rep. Charles Stenholm (D-Texas)
Jennifer Sass of the activist environmental group Natural Resources Defense Council has a history of getting her facts wrong, but her letter of March 26 (“EPA foe Stenholm lobbies for maker of toxic chemical,” in response to op-ed) contained a real whopper. Sass’s protest that the NRDC “has no financial stake” in its decades-long opposition to atrazine and other essential agricultural technology is laughable.

Sass likes to accuse everyone else of having ulterior financial interests, so let’s take a look at her own. The NRDC isn’t some struggling nonprofit. According to its 2007 tax return, NRDC revenues topped $100 million and it has net assets almost twice that amount. It raises that money by scaring the wits out of people with false claims, like the one’s she repeated in her letter about atrazine.

The most infamous example of that was the Alar scare, now known to be a black mark on the radical environmentalists, who drove apple farmers out of business on no scientific foundation whatsoever.

To promote that scare, NRDC hired leftwing PR strategist David Fenton, who later boasted, “We designed [the Alar campaign] so that revenue would flow back to the Natural Resources Defense Council from the public, and we sold this book about pesticides through a 900 number and the ‘Donahue’ show. And to date there has been $700,000 in net revenue from it.”

The fact is NRDC’s radical environmentalist agenda includes a fundamental hostility to America’s corn economy. During a recent EPA hearing, Sass herself, out of the blue, shockingly questioned “whether or not we need such overproduction of corn in this country … that’s for EPA to consider.” How revealing.

The purpose of writing my March 23 letter (“Obama’s energy and ag policies not selling in rural America”) was not aimed solely at the Obama administration, but also at Congress. When organizations like the NRDC succeed in their extremist agenda, they hurt our economy.

Just a few of the NRDC’s economy-killers include another slowdown of drilling for oil and gas on public lands, attempting to impose a cost on American business by regulating greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act, passing a cap-and-trade bill, putting a fly and a smelt ahead of food producers in California, and forcing a 50 percent downsizing of the horse industry. Our voices must be raised in opposition and sorted out by the political process.

The truth is the world’s population cannot be fed without the use of technology. The population is going to increase 50 percent by 2050. NRDC has every right to its anti-technology opinion. It can continue to cause wasteful taxpayer spending by studying and restudying every issue with the sole purpose of expensive delay and raising more money for their bloated treasuries.

But it’s exactly these types of outrageous attacks that I’ve confronted head-on as a family farmer, in my 26 years as a member of congress, to today in my current role as senior policy adviser with Olsson Frank Weeda.

All 300 million Americans need to know if the activists succeed, there will be a tremendous price paid by our grandchildren.


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