Home ยป Chellie Pingree Interview

Transcript:

Dave Chapman: (00:00)
Hi. My guest today is Chellie Pingree, Congresswoman from Maine, and Chellie, welcome to the Real Organic Project podcast.

Chellie Pingree: (00:11)
Thank you. I’m excited to have a chance to chat with you.

Dave Chapman: (00:14)
Good. Thank you. I know it’s particularly busy right now in Washington, so I appreciate it.

Chellie Pingree: (00:18)
A little bit crazy right now, yeah.

Dave Chapman: (00:19)
A little bit crazy lot going on. Many crises.

Chellie Pingree: (00:23)
Yeah, right. Multiple crises.

Dave Chapman: (00:25)
Yeah. Well, we’ll get to a little bit, but I’d like to start with just a little bit of your story, your personal story of how you got… I know you’re a certified organic farmer. I’d like you to talk about how you got to that and how you got from that to being in Congress.

Chellie Pingree: (00:44)
Well, this could take up the entire podcast, but I’ll try to make it short. I actually, I was born in Minnesota and my grandfather was a dairy farmer, but I grew up thinking, well that’s not something I’m going to do. But I actually ended up coming to Maine in the early 1970s when there was a big back to the land of movement in all of new England. But there was a lot of people came to Maine then, and I came with a boyfriend and we had a copy of Helen and Scott Nearing’s book “Living the Good Life.” And so basically knowing nothing, we lived in a small cabin at the end of a dirt road with no running water and electricity and heated with wood and really we were trying to be conscious of living more sustainably. And after a couple of years, I realized I didn’t know that much about what I was doing and it would be a good opportunity to learn some more things.

Chellie Pingree: (01:36)
So I became one of the first students at College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor. And that school has a very big environmental focus, but it also had the opportunity to study a little bit about plants and plant science and agriculture, and then I was very fortunate that Elliot Coleman taught a couple of classes. So he was really my first teacher of organic farming, which is about as good as it gets.

Dave Chapman: (02:00)
It is. He was my second teacher of organic farming.

Chellie Pingree: (02:02)
So I learned a lot from him. And then I did a farm apprenticeship, got involved actually with [Mofga 00:02:06] in the very early days. Worked as an employee for Mofga for a little while. Was on the board. Then after college I actually moved back. I live on the Island of North Haven, which is a small community, 12 miles off the coast of Maine, so it takes an hour on a ferry to get there. And my first farm was a place we were renting and we had three dairy cows, a hundred chickens, and a couple of acres of vegetables that we mostly sold to people came in the summer. We sold milk in glass bottles year-round.

Chellie Pingree: (02:36)
It was mid to late seventies that I got into the sheep and wool business. We raised a lot of sheep and turned it into yarn that we had spun in Maine at the Bartlett mill. And sold knitting kits and pattern books and I get very engaged in sort of their value added products of wool and sheep. And somewhere in that time, I ran into a woman who was already serving in the Maine state Senate and she was trying to recruit a candidate to run for the Senate in my district, and I had no involvement in politics before. I was on the local school board and I was very interested in local town meeting, local things that would involve us, but I really hadn’t been involved in the party or partisan politics or anything else.

Chellie Pingree: (03:21)
And somehow eventually I got talked into doing it and I finally figured out that the reason they were trying to recruit somebody was because my Senate district was 40% Republican, 40% independent, and only 20% Democrats. So it was not a surprise they couldn’t find a democratic candidate, but it was 1992 and it actually was the first year of the woman. It was right after the Clarence Thomas hearings and I actually, I knocked on 5,000 doors. I met people in all of the small towns where I was running and I would occasionally go to somebody’s door and they would say, “Oh, you’re the knitting lady.” Right? Because, there’d be like little old ladies who had knit one of my sweater patterns or the one from our company or knew about our business, read about it somewhere or something.

Chellie Pingree: (04:10)
And I think that was actually a really big help that people appreciated that I had been a farmer, that I raised sheep, that I had a small business. Anyway, I won. So that was the big surprise. And I went to the legislature in ’92 and I served there for eight years in the legislature. I was actually on the agriculture committee for some of that. And issues came up like GMOs and irradiated food and a whole variety of things. But honestly, never got much attention. Really. It was… We’d talk about it but there would never be a bill passed or there wasn’t a lot of focus. So fast forward, I left the legislature, didn’t think I would ever get back in politics. Ended up with an opportunity to run again in 2008. By then I had already, I’d opened a small inn on the Island of North Haven.

Chellie Pingree: (05:03)
Right around that same time, got an opportunity to have yet another organic farm, the one I have today. But again was lucky enough to be elected to Congress. And the one really interesting thing about coming here, I’ve been interested in organic food and organic growing and sort of everything related to the food system pretty much all of my adult life. And when I came to Congress, I had done a lot of work on healthcare and prescription drug pricing. And so I thought, well I’ll go to Congress and I will focus on that. Because that was what I’d done in the legislature. And I got to Washington and found out that virtually every Democrat in Washington wanted to focus on healthcare and prescription drugs and they all had more seniority than me and they knew much more than me. But I was on the agriculture committee. And honestly I was shocked to find out that there weren’t very many members who were really interested in the big picture, the food system, organic farming, hunger, eating more healthy. All those things weren’t most people’s interest.

Chellie Pingree: (06:02)
A lot of people thought of it as a committee they had to go to or they went because they were representing the commodity that was grown in their area, corn, cotton, specialty crops, almonds, whatever it was. People were there to talk about that issue but not really focused on the big picture. So I found that really surprising. But the good news was I was so interested in it and I knew there was such a growing movement of people who were interested in how their food was grown and things like organic farming that I just considered myself really lucky. And so now for 10 years in Congress, I’ve gotten to work on a whole variety of issues around organic food, around people eating more healthy food, around sort of our food system as a whole and here I am.

Dave Chapman: (06:50)
Yeah, that’s great. Well you must be really one of the very few organic farmers in Congress and there aren’t all that many farmers anymore.

Chellie Pingree: (07:00)
Yeah, I mean people who have a farm in their family or are farmers or have been farmers… Certified organic. There’s John Tester in the Senate. I don’t know in the house. Mike Thompson from California, I think might have some organic grapes or olives in production. But other than that, no. Nobody else. And so you know, that’s a big asset to know how the certification process works. Honestly, it’s a big asset to know what the nuts and bolts of farming are, what it is, how hard it is to make a living off of farm, how hard it is to make money, what it is to deal with food safety regulations or any kind of regulation at all or what consumers are interested today. I’m lucky enough that I continue to have a farm and I have wonderful farm managers because obviously I’m here and my daughters have been a big help in managing it but we sell directly to the public.

Chellie Pingree: (07:54)
So we get a good sense of what questions people ask us. What kind of food they’re interested in buying, what the issues are. So… And I come from Maine, which is a state with a lot of organic farmers, a lot of people doing value added, a lot of young people interested in farming. I think we have double the number of young women in farming or women generally as the average in the country. So, you could say I come from a perfect state for this.

Dave Chapman: (08:21)
Yeah, it’s interesting. The Organic Farmer’s Association, which is here today visiting you. When they asked the farmers across America, the organic farmers, what is their primary concern? Their primary concern is the integrity of the national organic program, the organic label. And it’s been a fascinating thing that the U S government has taken over certification for organic. And with that has come tremendous growth of the label. And as with that growth, there have come tremendous challenges for maintaining what organic meant to any of us in the first place. So you’re kind of the tip of the spear in Congress on this one actually. And I’m just curious what are your thoughts about whether we can come back and bring organic back to what we meant it to be? I mean there… I’ve just been through a day of meetings that the Organic Farmers Association and the three big things are for livestock whether they really go out and eat pasture, that’s their source of nutrition for grains. Whether it’s really grown organically or did it suddenly change shape on the ship and develop new paperwork and for vegetables and berries, whether or not they’re grown in the soil or hydroponically. So in every major area of organic, there’s serious challenges to transparency and integrity. What are your thoughts? Do you think that this is something that we’re going to be able to win back?

Chellie Pingree: (10:13)
I don’t have a crystal ball, but I do think that as the increased interest on the part of the American public also helps us to have more opportunities to strengthen the label. That said, as the industry has gotten bigger and bigger and the demand is something like $50 billion today, so that’s a lot more organic sales than when I started in the 1970s. What I continue to say to people is that the one good thing about the organic certification process right now it’s the best thing that we’ve got. It’s the most dependable label. I know what it is to go through the certification process. And for the vast majority of farmers who comply with all the regulations, do everything that they’re supposed to, it’s not easy. It’s not something that you just sort of walk out there and become an organic farm.

Chellie Pingree: (11:03)
It’s not easy to sustain it. And consumers are increasingly sort of questioning who you are and what you’re doing. So that said, I think it’s all the more reason why we have to work incredibly hard to protect it and to fight back on those things that have started to kind of eat away at it. And I know how deeply concerned, particularly many of the people who were there at the beginning of writing the standards, which I wasn’t involved, but ow concerned that they feel about this. So I’ve tried to be a big proponent of the standard of supporting organic farmers, supporting the transition, putting … last year we put lots more money into organic research. Every way we can possibly do it and to fight back when there’s these problems. I just came out of a committee hearing, questioning secretary Perdue about the organic livestock rule and they have danced around it and danced around it and not completed it.

Chellie Pingree: (11:59)
And we’ve been pushing them very hard about getting it done so that at least we can know where we stand on it. And some of the other rules, they’ve either failed in the process and the transition to the next administration or they’re not being enforced. I sit on the agriculture appropriations committee, so we put a lot more money into enforcement and that is something that we’ve been pushing on. And remember, I’m often the only person pushing on it because it’s not a broad… There just aren’t a lot of members who are interested in this. But getting more enforcement, we’re about to send in a request to them finding out what their plans are for that enforcement. We have been arguing with them for two or three years, no maybe five or six years, about the import standards and our deep concerns about what comes in on the ship.

Chellie Pingree: (12:47)
Do we have trustworthy certifiers out around the world? Do we have enough enforcement? And we learned a lot about the system an there’s not very good data that’s kept. It’s a very confusing system that was never set up to have organic as sort of like a part of what those people who look through customs and certify things at the border are really watching for. So in a way, I feel like I’ve made some progress in better understanding what the system is, putting more money in it, and now we’re going to work on trying to get back information about how they’re enforcing it. But that’s obviously the number one threat. I’ve never been a proponent of organic hydroponics as people like to call it and I wasn’t successful on that. But we’ll continue to fight on that because the one good thing that I was lucky enough to learn when Elliot Coleman was my teacher was healthy soil, healthy plant, everything starts with the soil. And we are actually pushing really hard this year on another bill, another legislation just to reinforce the importance of soil, of organic matter in our soil, of the role that healthy soils can play in sequestering carbon, which is rapidly becoming one of our big issues. It’s a nice ring, anyway.

Chellie Pingree: (14:08)
Oh, that’s so funny. See that woman up there. Have you ever met Hannah’s husband, Jason?

Speaker 3: (14:15)
No, I haven’t.

Chellie Pingree: (14:16)
Anyway, she’s married to Jason’s twin brother.

Speaker 3: (14:18)
Oh, interesting.

Chellie Pingree (14:19):
Yeah. It’s kind of like a relative, but not really.

Dave Chapman: (14:22)
All right, so let’s slide back in. It’s really interesting to me, I came into this conversation as a lifelong farmer and with no interaction with the process of certification beyond this level of Vermont. And in Vermont, it’s got tremendous integrity as I know it does in Maine. So we live in this world and I felt that, gosh, the national organic program… I was wrong. It worked. That’s how I felt about it. I thought, no, they’ve really done a pretty good job. And I got into this discussion because of discovering that hydroponics were being certified and I knew that that had been decided by the advisory board. That it shouldn’t be. And I thought, well, there’s been a mistake. And as I got into it, it turned out there had been perhaps a mistake, but it wasn’t an oversight. There had been lobbying that had happened and really in opposition to the will of the entire organic community.

Dave Chapman: (15:37)
It was like, “no, we have a new rule now.” And I think the same thing is very much true and in the pastoral for livestock and of course nobody supports lying about grain being organic. So we have these things where the actual enforced standards that produce much of the food that is available for the store with the organic label, is not what we meant by organic. And it’s a tragic situation in that people want such good things and it’s not like people are trying to figure out how to game the system. People who want the organic seal really want that kind of food, want the food to be grown that way. And I’ve tried to wrap my head around why is it that we can’t succeed? Why is it, if we go and talk to the people in the national organic program, why is it that they’re not responsive to us? I wonder if you have any thoughts about that. I know you did address this when you spoke at the rally back in Thetford in 2016.

Chellie Pingree: (16:42)
Well, I mean, I’m sorry to say that not everything in our political system works perfectly. I mean, frankly I don’t understand why we haven’t had single payer health care for the last 20 years. But I also know there’s a lot of disparate interests with the pharmaceutical manufacturers, the for profit hospitals, there’s all kinds of interests on the outside that often influence our ability to make a good decision. And it’s certainly true of agriculture as sometimes it’s a big picture lobby, sometimes it’s just one member who has a particular interest, one member of Congress, or a lack of interest, a lack of sort of storming the gates. So, I think each one of these has been somewhat of a different circumstance and I try to do my best to either mitigate what’s going on, to fight back, or to fix the problems as I see them.

Chellie Pingree: (17:36)
And it’s a little bit kind of different with the NLP and sort of an outside standard board that isn’t directly under the oversight of Congress or we don’t get to make all of the decisions, but I’ve heard it said that there are more entities and more money spent lobbying on food and agriculture than the defense industry. And so sometimes people don’t see it in this context that there’s a lot of different interests out there. And I think as the demand for organic has grown, you’ve seen more and more entities want to get in on it, but not necessarily follow all the rules that most of us believe are essential, be much more driven by sort of the big picture of profit as opposed to doing it right and taking better care of the soil. And all of those things. So it’s definitely not perfect and it’s frustrating I think when you realize like who put all the work into getting this started and what the original vision was.

Dave Chapman: (18:43)
I was on a panel for the agricultural journalists of America here and Laura Batcher from the Organic Trade Association and Steve Etka from National Organic Coalition were on it and also a guy from the hydroponic lobby. So the four of us were on it and it was interesting. And one of the things that Laura said is that she attributed a lot of the failures of the national organic program, which she agreed, she acknowledged that there are real problems, but she had true attributed them to Trump and the Trump administration. And one of the journalists said, “I’m curious to ask the others if they agree with that.” And I said, “well, I agree things have gotten worse under Trump.” And I mean, they’re not even nice now. They used to at least smile as they kicked you.

Dave Chapman: (19:41)
But, I said we have to acknowledge that a lot of the losses of the national organic program happened during the eight years of Obama and to my grief. So it’s not simple to figure out how to address that. And I’m curious if from your perspective, and I understand that the world is a complicated place, but from your perspective, if we’ve got these 30, 40 million Americans who actually do care to some degree, they’re making the choice to spend more money to buy organic food. And I’m pretty sure that if I had a conversation with them, most of those 30 to 40 million people would agree with me about actually that’s not what we want. We buy organic. So how do we change this? We’ll take a big picture here. We’ve got lots of time. We don’t have lots of time in the climate, but we have time to figure out a 10 year plan. How do we turn around what’s happening in the USDA? They didn’t want it in the first place. I understand that it was thrust upon them to run the national organic program. But how can we change that?

Chellie Pingree: (21:03)
Well, it is and I will agree with you that some of these things were falling apart in the last administration. I can’t explain it all. I didn’t work at the USDA, but I certainly was fighting back where we didn’t agree. It’s far worse now unfortunately and I like to hope that at some point we’ll have a new administration that cares more about not only people’s health but environmental health and understands the importance of that. And we’ll have a new secretary of agriculture who I hope we can influence into the importance of all this. You know, one thing I think has shifted, and I don’t want to put all my eggs in this basket so to speak, but people’s concern about what’s in their food is as high as it’s ever been and it’s distributed through the public.

Chellie Pingree: (21:50)
It’s not a Republican or Democratic issue. People really care about that. Parents are very worried about what they feed their kids. And, and just overall health in general. But equally now we’re seeing people who are really concerned about the environment and in some ways I think that’s extremely helpful to having more public pressure on how things are grown and strict standards about how they’re doing it. And I think it’s no time for organic farmers or people who care about these things to disappear because I think we’re very likely to see a whole new kind of set of standards around what’s climate friendly agriculture, whether people call it regenerative or something else. You could get a whole nother set of standards that don’t incorporate all the things that we also care about very comprehensively with organics. You could get people who say, “well, these are really good healthy techniques for the soil. Who cares if they’re GMO seeds?”

Chellie Pingree: (22:46)
So I think it’s sort of, it’s no time to back off or to forget about how important this is, but also to understand that there’s going to be a lot of converging forces, which in some ways if those of us who care about these things and particularly who care about the environment and the health of the soil, we have another sort of way in because the consumer is going to start to say, not only I don’t want any chemicals or pesticides or herbicides in my food, but I also want to know that you did right by the environment. And increasingly, I see that part of as our job too and a little bit of our crusade because one fundamental concept that’s been important to me since I started learning about this is about the organic matter and the health of the soil.

Chellie Pingree: (23:34)
And that’s so fundamental to an organic grower. And we have to make sure that people understand that if you want to sequester carbon in the atmosphere, we have to pull an enormous amount of carbon out of the atmosphere right now or frankly, we’re just not going to survive everything that’s going on and no one is better positioned to do that than an organic farmer. And also we’ve got to change a lot of our practices with farmers who aren’t organic, but we have to stay engaged in the conversation. And I don’t like it, but we’re not going to be successful if we’re not a part of this because I truly believe there’ll be a whole nother standard that doesn’t incorporate all that we care about. And I agree it’s not a perfect system. We haven’t had a perfect administration. We have a lot of frustration with all these things go, but we can’t get caught up in everything that doesn’t go right because I just think this mission is bigger than it ever been. It’s really about saving the planet.

Dave Chapman: (24:30)
I agree. I agree. So good. Let’s talk about climate change, climate crisis. Paul Hawkin will be speaking.

Chellie Pingree: (24:41)
Which is great.

Dave Chapman: (24:41)
At the symposium. You’ll be introducing him. And in my conversation with him, he said, “you know the number one thing for addressing climate change, obviously we have to stop burning fossil fuels, but that will not reverse climate change.” It’s too far gone. The system is too far out of balance. So if we stop burning everything tomorrow, the climate continues to warm up. So he said that the number one solution for reversing climate change has got to be agriculture. And he said probably number three or four is the food system. He said for various reasons, he separated when you put them together, it’s hugely number one. How we grow the food is how we’re going to save ourselves. And real organic farming is the right way to do that. So I see a thing where there’s hope here. I look at Denmark and Paul says, “that’s not fair to Denmark.” So we can’t compare ourselves to Denmark.

Chellie Pingree: (25:49)
They get all the gold stairs, all the time. It’s not fair.

Dave Chapman: (25:51)
… All the gold stars. I look at Denmark and they gave the equivalent if the U.S. government did the same thing in terms of percentage of their budget, they gave the equivalent of $19 billion to take the whole country as far to organic as they can over a five year period. And I thought, well that’s a serious commitment, $19 billion and would have a huge impact in farming if we were to make it. And I consider that to be a bold idea that might be part of a green new deal, a genuine green new deal. Obviously the hard part is to win the support of Congress. So to do that, as I said to you at that meeting, we can’t expect our brave politicians to do that alone. They can only do that as part of a mass movement of support for those actions. So do you see the green new deal? I know it’s a controversial issue in Congress. Do you see that, the energy of that, as something that will help to actually change how we do things in this country?

Chellie Pingree: (27:02)
Well, I’m one of the co-sponsors of the green new deal and I thought it was an incredibly important document. It was the first thing I think that whether it’s young people or the American public in general got a chance to say, “Oh finally somebody listening in Washington.” Finally they understand the level of concern that we have or the level of the challenge that we have to deal with. So I think it’s been one of the best things that we’ve put out there. On the other hand, it’s just an aspirational document. It sort of says in the big picture, here’s all the things we want to have happen and how important it is to include people’s livelihood, economic justice, everything along the way. I just finished writing this bill on agriculture and what I was really trying to do is to say, “okay, let me take the agriculture side of this and, and get very specific about kind of the science around it.”

Chellie Pingree: (27:54)
Like what do we need to do to move American agriculture? And it doesn’t deal with everything in the food system. It took us 200 pages just to get through the agricultural part to talk about soil health and preserving farmland, to talk about pasture-based livestock, food waste, which is a huge component. More research, better goals, stronger goals. So we’ve kind of kept it on a somewhat of a narrow path, but one of the reasons was because we think we need good information as quickly as possible. We need people to understand, just as you mentioned that agriculture can play an enormous role in sequestering carbon out of the atmosphere and getting us out of this position that we’re in. But we have to change a lot in an entire system. I had sort of to… Besides putting it all down on paper and getting it in one place and feeding on some of the things that we’ve already done to support organic agriculture and help people make more of that transition.

Chellie Pingree: (28:51)
I wanted to get it included in the process that the Democrats are currently going on, which is actually bipartisan. And that’s a special select committee on climate change. So that committee will come out with a report at the end of March and it will look at everything, our transportation sector, renewable energy and all those things. But knowing that there weren’t a lot of people who would focus on agriculture, I want to make sure that they put good language in there that would really be beneficial to farmers that would engage hopefully an even growing group of farmers around the country in this and would truly support the things that that we all believe in. So I think we’ve been sort of successful in doing that and now trying to get sort of a broader range of interest in getting back to what’s going on in the States and everything else.

Chellie Pingree: (29:35)
So I think there are huge opportunities there. Unfortunately this administration is as bad as anything I’ve ever seen in terms of rolling back the regulations we already had and denying it. Climate change is real and preventing us from doing anything related to a carbon tax or anything that would put a stop to what we’re doing and also generate income. But I see that coming in the future. So when you ask about making a big investment, I wanted to have a roadmap out there so that when the moment comes, hopefully with our next Congress and a new administration that we say, “Okay, we’ve got to enact real laws, whether it’s a cap and trade system that they’re doing in California now or whatever it is.” But to say there has to be a way that we stop people from putting more carbon in the atmosphere through fossil fuels and the processes we use now that we capture some of the income that is available from that.

Chellie Pingree: (30:28)
And we invested in the things we need to. And unfortunately our country is so far behind in investments, whether it’s mass transportation or better insulation of our homes or more renewable energy. I mean we got a lot of work to do, but my goal was to say agriculture has to be at this table because even if we stop everybody from using fossil fuels, as you mentioned, we got to pull a lot of carbon out of the atmosphere. But it’s going to take a fair amount of investment to help more people to do that, to encourage more, to regulate people more, whatever path we take. So I see an opportunity for actual funding out there. I really do. But I was worried that if we didn’t construct something now, there wouldn’t be a seat at the table.

Chellie Pingree: (31:10)
And you know, one more thing I’ll say about it is I’m very engaged in the climate change process in general. I’m lucky enough to live in Maine where we have some great activity moving forward. I personally live in a net zero house, so I heat my house with solar panels and a wood stove and generate my own electricity and do all those things. So I’m a true believer and I always have been. But I find that a lot of my great environmental friends understand a lot about this, believe in solar power and renewable energy, but know very little about agriculture. And I will often say, you got to help people understand that fixing climate change is not about a plant a tree and I’ll stop eating meat because for a lot of people that’s all it is.

Chellie Pingree: (31:53)
Well obviously, we got to preserve every ounce of farmland we’ve got right now. We can’t plant trees all over it. And I come from Maine. I know that forestry is a really important part of our state that forest landowners are already taking advantage of being used as an offset for a lot of industries. But, many people who care about that and want to plant more trees don’t understand. Like we have this amazing resource in the soil and a lot of environmentalists don’t get it. And I think, one of the big challenges for all of us is not being just smug that we’re organic farmers, but saying like the world has to understand like what that means and why this idea of the soil and carbon in our soil is so important or sequestering carbon and having organic matter in the soil.

Chellie Pingree: (32:37)
And also that, well, I’m not a supporter of [KFO’s 00:32:42] or industrial raising of meat or beef or anything else, pasture raised beef, permanent pasture is one of the best things that we can do to sequester carbon and we have to help people to understand what the differences there and why that makes so much difference. So I mean, I feel a little bit like I’m on this crusade right now and sometimes I’m actually arguing with the left and a lot of times I’m arguing with the deniers and the right. But I see it as our job for all of us who care about it to really help people to understand like what can farmers do to move this path forward? And, it has to happen now. And you’re right, we have to invest in it.

Dave Chapman (33:19):
Yeah. And, I see that farmers can’t do it without the support of eaters. So I agree with you completely, that what we need is a more informed population about these critical issues. We can’t let somebody else figure this out. It’s why we’re doing these podcasts.

Chellie Pingree: (33:41)
That’s great.

Dave Chapman: (33:41)
It’s why we’re doing this symposium is to have people start to become more biologically sophisticated about the processes of climate and agriculture and nutrition and all these things that very much affect them. But that are a little overwhelming at first. The good news is they’re really interesting as you get into them.

Chellie Pingree: (34:03)
Absolutely. Those of us who care about it get all geeked out on these things. I think I can bore a room full of people, like when I really start talking about it. So, but one way I sort of explain it to people is because… Partly because of the Trump administration, because prior to that we had eight years of Republican control. And believe me, this isn’t just a partisan issue, all Democrats aren’t good. And I’ve got a lot of Republicans who really care about these things and want to work on them. So I don’t mean to say that, but overall we have had a complete lack of conversation at the federal level. Like we haven’t had bills before Congress in almost a decade that talk about a carbon tax or talk about better soil practices or talk about collecting better data.

Chellie Pingree: (34:53)
I mean, mostly we have an administration now that scrubs everything they can off the internet about climate change. But my point is, it actually means a lot of members of Congress haven’t been engaged in this debate. And the American public hasn’t really heard a lot of good information and data about what we should be doing. I tried to explain it to people. Like for eight years we’ve had the Republicans attempting to repeal the Affordable Care Act. So every member of Congress, and we have had 60 bills to do it. So every member of Congress can get up in a second and debate, you can’t take your kids off the plan. I mean, you shouldn’t be taking the kids off the plan until they’re 26. You got to keep prior… You have to keep people who have prior conditions. You have to do all these things.

Chellie Pingree: (35:36)
So we know the fundamentals about it. But you couldn’t find, as smart and wonderful as so many of my colleagues are, you couldn’t find very many who could conduct a sustained debate about what we should do about climate change or what we need to do with fundamental change. Most people don’t know how much carbon is in the atmosphere. They don’t know. If we stopped using oil tomorrow, would everything be okay? And so if we can’t talk about it, how can we expect the American public to be fluid and versed in these things? And I think it’s why a lot of people have somewhat of a misunderstanding at times about what would be the best thing to do. And I think especially now as young people are just… they’re just being so impressive and engaged on this.

Chellie Pingree: (36:20)
But we got to give them real things to come down here and protest about. We got to give them real things to know what we should be doing. And we have to have a lot of proposals out there that we can debate as a country and say, “Hey, let’s get on with it.” Which way are we going to go? How are we going to do this? And there are great models out there. There are countries who are way ahead of us. But we got to do that now. And so much of it has to do with our food and how it’s grown. The overall health of the system, how much we transport food, all the things that we do wrong currently.

Dave Chapman: (36:54)
Yeah. Well, Chellie, I happen to know you have an appointment right now. So, I’m going to respect that, and thank you very much. I think one of the things that I see is we need somebody like you as Secretary of Agriculture sometime soon, because we really do have to change and get people who are genuinely thoughtful and informed about these issues in positions of responsibility, whatever party they might be. But it is really important.

Chellie Pingree: (37:31)
I agree. And we absolutely need a great commissioner of agriculture. I already like my day job, so hopefully there’ll be many of them to choose from in an administration that really cares about it. So thank you for having me on your podcast.

Dave Chapman: (37:43)
Thank you so much.

Chellie Pingree: (37:43)
I really appreciate the work that you do. Thanks.

Dave Chapman: (37:45)
Okay. Bye. Bye.