Holding a letter from a Midwest farm group claiming the EPA is engaged in “non-stop regulatory assault on agriculture,” Nebraska Sen. Mike Johanns (former Secretary of Agriculture under George W. Bush) told Jackson There’s a fear in the country” that the Obama administration “walked in and every idea for more regulation was dusted off. … I hear you say you’ve been out there addressing farmers with (Agriculture) Secretary Vilsack. I say to you: it’s one thing to listen, another thing to hear. It seems like you pay lip service and then go on.”

Johanns was especially exercised about the EPA’s seeming selective adherence to laws and guidelines. As an example, he said a group of senators wrote Jackson a letter which cited the following from the Clean Air Act: “the administrator shall conduct continual evaluation of potential loss or shifts of employment which may result from the administration or enforcement … in applicable implementation plans including, where appropriate, investigating threatened plant closures or reductions of employment allegedly resulting from such administration or enforcement.”

In their letter, the senators asked if the EPA was following that particular law.

Jackson’s response to the letter, said Johanns, was unsatisfactory. The administrator’s missive consisted of several things “that jumped right out at me. From your letter, ‘EPA has not interpreted Section 321 to require EPA to conduct formal investigations in taking regulatory actions. EPA has not conducted a Section 321 investigation of its greenhouse gas actions. We are not undertaking a Section 321 analysis…’”

Asked Johanns: How does Congress “get clearer with you? ‘Shall’ seems quite obvious to me. We debate these laws, battle each other … and finally get a law passed and it’s like nobody is paying attention. You’re just out there kind of doing your thing – whatever your thing of the day is.

“This is the point I want to make to you: You’re hammering the little guy. The big guy who can get capital and loans and access those will somehow find a way to deal with what EPA is requiring even though it’s enormously onerous.

“Even when you exempt, or re-exempt, the small operator, they still feel the ripple effects of what you’re doing. (EPA actions) are just causing agriculture to consolidate more and more and more at a time, when, quite honestly, that’s the last thing we need.

“So, when you have such a clear direction from Congress – as you got in Section 321 – how could you possibly reach a conclusion that an employment analysis doesn’t need to be done on something so important, fundamental, so job-impacting as what you’re doing in this are? How can you ignore that?”

Jackson did not answer Johanns directly. But she did acknowledge the EPA has a poor image among farmers and ranchers, that many believe the agency “somehow has it in for the agriculture sector. My assurance is there’s nothing of the kind. I have no personal agenda. I believe we can’t be a strong country without a strong agricultural sector, that we cannot be prosperous if we can’t feed ourselves.

“From an environmental perspective, importing food – and the huge carbon footprint that (would result) – is much less preferable than to get (homegrown) food…

“Any belief that there’s an agenda that somehow targets (the agricultural) sector would be the furthest thing from who I am.”

Due to allegations she’s seen, Jackson checked and found that the year before she became EPA administrator, the agency “put out around 125 regulations. Last year, we did 94. There has been no huge blow up in the number of regulations.”

However, there is “a huge regulatory backlog, much of it driven by court cases which compel the EPA to follow the law.”

With respect to economic analyses of EPA rulemaking, “none of those 94 regulations … specifically exempts agriculture and small businesses from having to face any greenhouse gas regulation until, at least, 2016. It’s my firm hope that, by then, there will be legislation to govern those issues. It was an attempt to give further assurance to those sectors that they are not where we’re looking for greenhouse gas reductions.”