JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — Douglas Goehring And The EPA: The Real Story

North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Douglas Goehring is all over the news media this week saying he was “blindsided” by the EPA. Looks to me like he was just blind. And pretty stupid, too, and now he’s going to cost the U.S. taxpayers a bunch of money, if the EPA has to send in a team of federal pesticide inspectors to do what he’s supposed to be doing for the taxpayers and farmers of North Dakota.

Douglas, Douglas, Douglas. Whatever are you thinking?

It seems the commissioner got a notice this week after an EPA audit that said “EPA Region 8 (which includes North Dakota) is not conducting inspections at establishments that produce pesticides in North Dakota. Further, North Dakota does not have a state inspector with qualifications equivalent to a federal inspector to conduct inspections on the EPA’s behalf.” As a result, “EPA pesticide inspections must resume in North Dakota to determine compliance and protect human health and the environment,” the EPA said in an audit.

Douglas blamed everyone from President Obama on down, calling the EPA “politically motivated” and telling Agweek’s Jonathan Knutson “I get the feeling the White House isn’t very happy with us. Maybe EPA isn’t very happy with us because we’ve pushed back on some issues.”

What a load of crap. Truth is, Douglas screwed up, and he got caught. No amount of railing against the federal government is going to change that.

When I read the story, it said that “federal inspections of establishments that produce pesticides in North Dakota have not occurred for 14 years.” Well, I was taken aback by that, because two of my good friends were federally trained pesticide inspectors for former Commissioner Roger Johnson for years, and my friend, Jeff Weispfenning, was deputy commissioner for nine of those years, and he would have never let such a thing happen.

Jeff cleared it up in a Facebook post today. All the time Roger and he were running the department, they sent their state pesticide inspectors to federal pesticide school, and they got their federal credentials to carry out federal inspections and did so under an agreement with the EPA. So, technically there hasn’t been a federal inspector here for 14 years — the first nine under Johnson, the last five under Douglas. But there were federal inspections under Johnson, carried out by federally certified state inspectors.

Roger and Jeff left the State Ag Department nearly six years ago now, and apparently the stories you read about 70 percent employee turnover in the Ag Department in that time are true because now none of the department’s handful of pesticide inspectors has federal credentials. Thus, no agreement with EPA to carry out their federal inspections.

Jeff went and read the same audit Douglas did. He says “The audit pinpoints that since 2013, the Ag Department hasn’t had any pesticide inspectors with federal credentials. For some unknown reason the current agriculture commissioner didn’t continue with the federal credentials for the pesticide inspectors. This means there haven’t been ‘federal’ inspections since 2013.”

So, here’s the bottom line: Up until 2013, when the last pesticide inspector with federal credentials was not replaced, there was no problem, and there was no cause for an audit finding. Somebody screwed up, and that somebody is the current ag commissioner, who didn’t think the federal EPA credentials for his staff were a big deal.

Well, it turns out they were a big deal. All 50 states have to have federally certified inspectors to inspect pesticide facilities. That’s the law. Laws are made by Congress, not the White House or the EPA. In most states, to save the federal government some money and avoid duplication of effort (there are state pesticide inspection laws that must be followed as well, so the states have their own inspectors to do that), the state has their inspectors federally certified, and the same inspectors fulfill the requirements of both state and federal laws.

Douglas turned a blind eye, and as inspectors hired by Johnson left their jobs (apparently a hundred percent turnover in that division of the department in just five years), he didn’t send their replacements to school to get the federal certification. That’s taking his disdain for the federal government just a bit too far — he’s an elected state official, and he needs to get his politics out of the way when it comes to the serious business of keeping our farmers and our consumers safe. If it’s not politics, then he’s just plain stupid for not doing his job. Those are the only two possibilities here. I’ll let him choose whichever one he’s comfortable with.

Or maybe the $8,500 in campaign contributions he got last year from Monsanto, Syngenta and Bayer Crop Science — three of the world’s largest ag chemical companies — had something to do with it.

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