katherine english, lobbyist for the fertilizer institute
katherine english, lobbyist, the fertlizer institute
c- So, I always like to start out starting with your title, which is the Vice President of Government Affairs and so if you could just give like a day in the life or just a small description of what that actually means.
k- So, Vice President of Government Affairs um I manage our interaction with government officials ie-Capitol Hill. Um there's a couple of ways to do it when you're a lobbyist. You can, government affairs can mean regulatory or legislative. Um in my case I am strictly legislative and so we separate here at The Fertilizer Institute regulatory from legislative. So my job is to just lobby the Hill on um pending policy um as it stands. So, um a typical day for me is usually for example today, I'm going up to the hill, um I have meetings with Senate staff 10 o'clock, 11 o'clock, two-thirty, three-thirty. Um in the morning I am focused on chemical security in the afternoon I'm focused on climate change. And those are two bills that are pending each of which have passed the House and now is pending in the Senate. So I go up and meet with staff um and articulate to them how what they're thinking about doing what they're writing, what they're thinking about passing how that would impact the fertilizer industry.
c- And prior to working here you did work for the Senate yourself. You worked for the Environment and Public Works Committee and then again you also worked for a sub-committee for the Investigation and Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee and so if you could just talk about both of those, and then how that sort of led you to where you are today in The Fertilizer Institute.
k- laughs-Sure. Um when I graduated from law school, while I was in law school I worked for the district attorney's office in Oklahoma which is where I am from. Um then when I graduated I started um, they hired me on as an Assistant District Attorney and I did that for four years after graduation. And then I moved to Washington, DC and took a job on the permanent sub-committee on investigations better known as Senate Investigations of the Homeland Security Government Affairs Committee. And that is a job you typically come from prosecutorial or law enforcement background doing investigations. Um and then I from there I transitioned into environmental works which is kind of a pivot uh if you will um and that had to do with the fact that I'm from Oklahoma and I had some contacts with Senator Inhofe who is the senior senator from Oklahoma. He was also at the time the chairman of the Senate committee of environment and public works. So he hired me on as his investigations counsel to his committee and so my job there was to do investigations on as it related to environmental policy. Um that means oversight of the EPA, oversight of Armycore, oversight of all the um agencies that fell under the jurisdiction of the Committee of Environment and Public Works which is pretty broad but its basically, mostly EPA. Um, and then I also began to pick up legislative issues for myself so I was kind of an oversight and investigations attorney and then I kind of morphed into handling legislative issues as well. And from there, while I was at the committee, I handled an issue that EPA looked into an issue that EPA was doing to the fertilizer industry. Um EPA was um stepping outside of their jurisdiction over-regulating some uh farmers in Illinois and we got involved held a hearing and backed the EPA up. That's how I got to know the fertilizer industry so then when I um left the Hill, I went to a firm and I was at a dinner one night, started talking to this woman and she said 'I can't believe you would leave the Hill. If you're interested in leaving the Hill, why don't you come and work for us?' so that's how it all kind of started. So that's how I got there. Here.
c- I actually talked to a farmer who who farms in Illinois. She's a soybean and corn farmer. She has a 5,000 acre farm and I ask her some of the issues related to seeds since farmers now have to buy their seeds and are not allowed to grow their own. She was talking about the Roundup Ready seed .
k- Hm hm. Monsanto.
c- Yeah, and so that is kind of an interesting tie.
k- Well yeah-for us the corn belt Illinois, Indiana, Nebraska, that area of the country is our is the bread basket of the United States so it's certainly um in the agriculture world that we're all over the country uh but that's kind of the uh concentrated area.
c- Yeah so from Oklahoma where you are from I guess there are a lot of farm lands which is—did you grow up on a farm or have any ties to farms?
k- I. My family is in the ranching industry so Oklahoma is a predominantly, there is a there is farming
agriculture-wheat in the north, and cotton in the south. But I would say the (laughs) the the the primary industries in Oklahoma are oil and gas and cattle. So my family runs beef cattle um and I did grow up I grew up in a town my parents have in the southeast part of the state.
c- And so some of the things that I know you mentioned you have today all of these different meetings and then the case that you are working on tomorrow so what are some typical things that the fertilizer institute has to deal with on a regular basis or the issues that are coming up anything current that you guys have to work on.
k- Sure. Um climate change is a very, very big issue for fertilizer. Nitrogen fertilizer is um made out of ammonia and to make ammonia we use natural gas as our feedstock we burn we we heat up natural gas um and take the methane out of the gas and the hydrogen out of the gas and through a chemical process make nitrogen. Unfortunately that is um a a process that emits a great deal of carbon. We emit two ton of carbon for every ton of ammonia produced. It's pretty significant, so a car a policy that would put a price on carbon would affect our industry significantly. Also because we um fertilizer is a global commodity we need it on a world market not uh not uh its not just US. So um we are very exposed to to global competition. So climate change is an issue that we are heavily involved in. it's probably our top priority. Another issue that we are involved in is something called chemical security which is a a um legislation that would it's designed to um secure in theory chemical facilities. Facilities like nitrogen facilities or that make or produce chemicals. Um what this bill um uh is designed to do is um make our chemical facilities safer. Unfortunately some of the things in the bill that's pending right now in the Senate is um would be incredibly detrimental to our facilities it would give the department of homeland security in our opinion way too much jurisdiction it would allow the government to tell our engineers our security experts how to run our plants. Um it actually has a provision in it that would require us to consider switching to other products, um you can't make nitrogen unless you use ammonia, ammonia is one of the chemicals they say you have to evaluate whether you can use something safer and so that is a piece of legislation that we are actively lobbying to defeat.
c- And so through The Fertilizer Institute I know that you had mentioned that when you worked for some of these other committees and the EPA that there are obvious ties with farmers directly and so do farmers use the fertilizer in a sense and so I guess I am not sure exactly what The Fertilizer Institute does or what is their main goal or other things that they
k- Our, first of all we represent a membership. A membership is the fertilizer industry-manufacturers of fertilizer, wholesalers of fertilizer and retailers of fertilizer. The farmers are not members of The Fertilizer Institute because they are members of the Farm Bureau or the Farm-what's the other one-Farmer's Union is the other one. Um we work a lot with farmers um for example I have an eleven o'clock meeting and a twelve o'clock meetin on chemical security and I have invited the Farm Bureau and the Agriculture Retailers Association to join me so we can help articulate why this chemical security is bad for farmers it's going to take these products off the market. Um so we, they're our customers essentially farmer's are our customers, so to the extent that we work with them we do, um but they are not who we represent.
c- So when there are things going on-like the whole organic movement, did that affect some of the legislation that you guys were working on.
k- It does have, oddly, it does have some impact because um for some reason there is this perception that organic is healthier or organic is a better way to grow food. When in truth it is the same chemical put on the um soil it's just whether it came from a cow or it was produced in a plant. Um it's nitrogen is the same chemical whether you know it doesn't matter how it was produced it's the same chemical compound and there is this misnomer that um that organic is a is a pr-produces uh a more sound quality of a product which is uh not correct. So that's come into play a little bit. Um I've seen where like in the climate change policy there there's things that farmers can have an offset in one instance they were offered an offset using less nitrogen fertilizer chemical fertilizer. Also the perception of the perception of chemical fertilizer um depending on which political party I'm um dealing with there seems to be a pretty disposed position towards um whether they're positive or fav positive or negatively approaching fertilizer. So, organic has come into play a little bit um and there seems to be this favoritism over it um and some and some offices I run into that.
c- And so you mentioned that there are manufacturers and fertilizer companies that obviously that the TFI represents and so as I understood it from the farmer that I talked to, they have this thing called the Roundup Ready seed and that means you use the Roundup Ready fertilizer because that would help with the seeds and so they are making these seeds specifically for the fertilizers. And is that any relation to what you guys do?
k- That's actually not. Monsanto is a company that actually is the leader I would say in in tying seeds to products you know they're kind of producing these seeds that have fertilizer in them or crop protection chemicals in them-pesticides-um and that is not um Monsanto is not a member of TFI, they're not a traditional fertilizer company. Um I don't know how I think they're I think I would they would be defined as a pesticide company I'm not exactly sure, or a uh seed company. Um but no, they we we are not, in fact they would be viewed as a competitor.
c- Uh yeah.
k- Cause what they're trying to do is put/tie the fertilizer and the seed together which I think there could be some anti-trust issues there as well. Um but uh yeah that would be they we kind of view them as bit of a competitor.
c- Because they don't necessarily need like an application.
k- Right because if a farmer bought a seed that had fertilizer already in it um then they wouldn't purchase straight nitrogen.
c- And then knowing that obviously there are some pros and cons that obviously go along with fertilizer and some people have these misconceptions and so they are not 100% sure about organic they just hear about it or they see it in a newspaper or on the TV and so for the common person who isn't really sure what would be a pretty straightforward explanation that would be some of the pros for just using fertilizer? I guess as it relates to global warming and the climate change effort I think that that is an interesting pairing. To say that The Fertilizer Institute is going to work for climate change.
k- No, no we're opposed to climate change.
c- You're opposed to it. Ok, so can you talk a little bit about those things.
k- Well, first of all I would say that um there is not enough organic product in the world to to feed the world. Um you cannot sustain production agriculture off of organic. It, there, there's not enough out there. It would be an environmental disaster as well. Um organic uh there are more issues with run-off as it relates to organic than it does with chemicals. Um, chemical fertilizer um increases yields up to 40-60% that's why farmers use it. Laughs. It's a critical input for them. You have to replenish the soil after. You know if you're in production, you're in production agriculture, you take land and you, you harvest food off of it, right? Well, when you do that you take nutrients out of the soil so you have to replenish that. You cant get that done without fertilizer um and there's a reason why it's used all over the world and you can't feed the world population without the volume of food that we are producing today that's increased by fertilizer so it's, it's a critical input but it, um, it does have some environmental side effects. I'm you know I'm not going to say that it doesn't. Um we do combat uh problems that t result from run-off. Um hypoxia is an issue where um perhap the the argument is that nitrogen in the water has has kills the takes the oxygen out of the water. Um, there are many things that cause hypoxia, nitrogen in the water is one of them it comes from product, production agricultures. Those are some of the issues some of the trade offs you you have uh with applying chemical fertilizer to the soil, or any fertilizer for that matter. Um carbon emissions is another one. Um when we make fertilizer, we emit carbon. So it is a trade off but I certainly suggest that Americans farmers or the worlds farmers couldn't do what they do without our products and the trade off is in favor of using our product.
c- An so, perhaps you already mentioned this, so Illinois and some of those mid-central states which is the primary focus of where most of our crops come from, this is one of the places that you know this is affecting. And then also you guys provide for the entire country, the entire world I mean.
k- Well our our producers we do export some fertilizer in the US but we are net importers in the United States, now. Um, half of the industry in the United States has gone overseas. Um because of many issues but mainly because we're exposed um we're trade exposed unfortunately because of the regulations and some of the consolidations that have occurred in the market it, it can be financially um advantageous to go off-shore. So we do export some fertilizers there's basically three types of fertilizer: nitrogen, phosphate, and potash, we do export um potash, some phosphate, um we are a net importer of nitrogen. So that means you know we bring it in. We import about half of our nitrogen needs. 55%
k- Yeah. Which we would argue is not a wise policy. Um because that means we're dependent on um foreign countries for half of our nitrogen needs. The places where you go to produce nitrogen are where we have our raw mater, raw materials, which is nitro, which is natural gas. Nitrogen is made out of natural gas, so when you go, if you go to a manufacturer, you're going to go where there is cheap natural gas. That's the middle east, Russia, China. Um. That's where our manufacturers are going. We're bringing in product from countries which perhaps don't always have the best interest at hand toward the United States.
c- And, is there any particular reason that we do that besides the fact that it might be a little bit of a reduction?
k- It's, it's all bottom line. Well it's also those countries are more, there's less environmental restrictions there's at the placement of our raw materials natural gas. Less environmental restrictions, less labor restrictions, less labor costs um all add up to you can go offshore just within when you make many things you can go offshore, produce it, ship it back less than you can here in the United States.
c- It just seems like it would be a very dangerous thing to import.
k- Yeah. It is. Um yes because nitrogen and anhydrous ammonia which is um the main form of nitrogen fertilizer is a toxic ventilation gas so we do have it we do have special vessels special barges, we use special rail cars. Um it is something that we um place a high priority on curing. Um it is um you know we have kinds of special systems in our ships come in the ports you know and they got to stay outside of the port the coast guard goes out and brings them in things like that.
c- And so I think we had mentioned a little bit about this um this policy for the climate change so what are some of the things that when that happens when you need to to go against something that you know everybody is talking about, what are some of the things that you have to consider and think about when talking about climate change as it relates to The Fertilizer Institute.
k- Well, politics um, first and foremost I mean talking to someone depending on where they are coming from what's, what's important to their state. Um so um for us we're fortunate that um our products, our customers have always been farmers. Um it is politically unwise to implement policy that is detrimental to farmers. Um so that is something to always consider. So the first thing that I always try to uh make sure that someone understands is you understand that when you do something bad to the fertilizer industry you're hurting the farmer. You're increasing the cost to farmers for their inputs um so that's something I always try to hit when I'm talking to someone and uh you know it just depends on the issue. And uh it depends on the issue and it depends on the state which uh the member of congress is from, what their constit, constituent needs are. Um what there political position is. Um so its its varied.
c- Yeah so it seems like it's all related obviously when you mention that you would invite members from the Bureau, from the Farmers Bureau to come and sit in because they are the ones that are ultimately affected. Um do they get any say in any of that at times when, when obviously you're the one who's lobbying do they have any say in any of it.
k- Sure, they're lobbyists as well. So what I what we do is say an example is chemical security that's an issue that threatens to take off anhydrous ammonia and ammonia nitrate off the market. Farmers like to use anhydrous ammonia it's the cheapest most effec, effective, efficient form of nitrogen out there. So they have an interest in helping us make sure that these products stay on the market. So their lobbyists go with me and make a case for this is why you shouldn't do this don't just take it from me, the representative for The Fertilizer Institute, take, listen to so and so person of the farmers um so that's sort of how we do that. And so they uh they have so the Farm Bureau has a well highly sophisticated um excellent trade association uh you know that represents thousands and thousands and thousands of farmers.
c- So is there anything you were working on, maybe some past things that you just finished up working on.
k- That impact the industry? The farm bill is a big piece of legislation that has gone recently gone through congress. The, it , we have pretty much not been engaged with in the it effects more you know, farm, farmers. You know it's not really designed to help you know fertilizer. Uh but we do monitor big pieces of legislation like that have an impact, could have an impact on particularly on our customers. Um you know other uh you know when an energy bill comes up we are definitely going to be engaged in that because policy that affects energy ie natural gas would affect us. Um uh TASCA is a piece of legislation that um is pending right now that's a piece of legislation that regulates chemicals. Um that's pending so we're definitely watching that. Um some of the financial reform legislation even has an impact on manufacturers because of the hedging and credit practices that manufacturers offer to our customers. Um so yeah card check-the employee free choice act which is a piece of legislation that would affect how you estable labor unions, um that has an impact on use because our manufacturers are places where there are labor unions so there's all kinds of um—there's no shortage of issues (laughs)
c- So you are pretty busy.
c- Ok well I know that you have several things that are immediately after this so I won't hold you, but I always ask this last question and that is what is your favorite color?
c- Red. That's my favorite color.
c- Well, thank you very much.
k- You're welcome.