Guessing game: How will new environmental leaders affect ag?

In an atmosphere that could best be described as already funereal following the November presidential election, the announcement by President-elect Obama of his picks for the top environmental and energy posts did little to foster optimism in the agchem sector, or much of agriculture, for that matter.

That both appointments — Carol Browner as energy and global warming czar and Lisa Jackson as head of the Environmental Protection Agency — were generally accorded praise by environmental activist organizations was enough to set the worry beads clacking by those who develop, register, and sell agricultural chemicals.

While the activist groups have been vociferous in criticism of the EPA during the Bush years, charging that science took a back seat to head-in-the-sand politics in the agency's decisions, there has been for the most part a feeling in agriculture of less ham-handedness in the EPA's administering of rules and regs and a more open relationship with agribusiness.

Now, the worry is that an increasingly urban public, uneducated in the realities of what's necessary to keep America's unparalleled food and fiber system running at full production, will pressure for more stringent federal oversight.

Browner, who ran the EPA for eight years in the Clinton administration, previously had headed Florida's Department of Environmental Regulation, and before that was legislative director for then-Rep. Al Gore, with whom she has kept close ties.

During her EPA tenure, despite strident opposition from the Republican-controlled Congress, she advocated for new environmental standards, and successfully pushed through the Food Quality Protection Act, which broadened standards governing pesticide use and instituted sweeping data requirements for registered materials.

Although it's unclear just what's entailed in her new position of energy coordinator, it is expected it will involve a multi-disciplinary approach across several federal agencies, state and local governments, and the private sector. Since agriculture is listed as a generator of the greenhouse gases contributing to global warming, it likely will come under her authority.

Her criticism of the Bush years as “the worst environmental administration ever” may be an indicator that the new sheriff is going to be running things differently.

Ms. Browner is not without her own share of criticism: Steven Milloy of the Cato Institute has called her “a demagogic bureaucrat who abused her office and politicized the EPA like no prior administrator.”

Less well-known nationally is Lisa Jackson, nominated to head the EPA. “She shares my commitment to restoring the EPA's robust role in protecting our air, water, and abundant national resources,” said President-elect Obama.

Jackson, who has worked at the EPA's Washington and New York offices, has for the past three years headed New Jersey's Department of Environmental Protection, where she was termed a consensus-builder by both environmentalists and business groups.

She grew up in New Orleans, was a summa cum laude graduate of Tulane University's School of Chemical Engineering, and earned a master's degree in chemical engineering from Princeton. Heading the EPA will be something of a homecoming — she spent 16 years at the agency, regulating the cleanup of hazardous waste sites under the Superfund program and running various enforcement programs.

TAGS: Management
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