EPA official stresses clean water advocacy

With the Environmental Protection Agency under attack like never before, Region 7 Administrator Karl Brooks urged a friendly crowd at Monday’s Jayhawk Audubon Society meeting to advocate for cleaner water.

Recently, Republicans — both in Kansas and in Washington, D.C. — have criticized the EPA for what they say are too-stringent regulations that hamper small businesses, farmers and job growth.

“Our agency right now is as controversial as any government agency in the last quarter century,” Brooks said. “And, I can say that. I’m an historian.”

Brooks, who has lived in Lawrence for 15 years and teaches environmental law, history and policy at Kansas University, took on the role of EPA Region 7 administrator in 2010. He noted Monday night that public opinion polls show 75 percent of Americans support that the EPA should be as strong as it is now.

“Criticism comes with the turf. There’s never been a time where the EPA hasn’t been debated. But this is probably as tough as a season as we have ever faced,” Brooks said. “I’m confident that this agency will renew that connection with the people.”

Brooks main focus Monday was on better management of the state’s watersheds. Although Kansas law says water is a public resource, nearly all the land in Kansas is private. And much of that land is heavily cultivated.

The 41-year-old Clean Water Act regulates the pollution the sewer plants and industries emit into waterways. But it fails to regulate what chemicals are entering the waterways through nonpoint source pollution, such as the fertilizers put on lawns, fields and parks.

The most prevalent form of nonpoint source pollution in Kansas is the nitrogen and phosphorous coming from farm fields. Across the country, the EPA has set up conversations with other federal agencies, state and local government groups and businesses to talk about ways to better control the pollutants without requiring agriculture producers to obtain permits.

“What we have tried to do in Kansas and other states is to focus in on finding the problem and measuring where we are at and using the data to come up with solutions that do not involve the use of a permit,” Brooks said.

But Brooks said the input from groups such as the Audubon Society will be important in that process.

“That’s right, look in the mirror; you are going to have to become involved,” Brooks said. “If you don’t, other entities who are only interested in what they do will be the only ones at the table. You are going to have to step up and get involved.”

By Christine Metz

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