Rod Snyder, of Shenandoah Junction, was recently appointed Senior Advisor for Agriculture to the Administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The Observer spoke with Snyder about his new role and what inspired his career in public policy. The questions and responses in this article have been edited for length and clarity.
Q: What influenced you to focus your career on public policy, and specifically on agriculture and the environment?
Snyder: My family on both sides, most immediately on my mom’s side, have been farming in Jefferson County for a long time. My mom grew up on a dairy farm. I saw a path to contribute to that legacy through the policy lens.
I was a political science major in college, inspired by my dad’s public service. He was on the Jefferson County Commission when I was a kid and then went on to serve in the West Virginia State Senate for twenty years.
My whole career has been at the intersection of agriculture and public service.
Q: What are the duties and focus of your new position at the US EPA?
Snyder: This position of Agriculture Senior Advisor has been around for a couple of decades. It’s been important for the farming and ranching communities to have a single point to express issues and concerns or just generally engage with the EPA at a senior level. I report to the EPA Administrator and work across the entire agency. Day to day, a lot of my time is spent on stakeholder engagement. For example, today I met with all of the Farm Bureau state presidents. Other examples could include working on regional strategies to protect Chesapeake Bay water and engaging the EPA’s pesticide office with the agriculture sector’s perspective.
Focus areas for the EPA overall include environmental justice – understanding how the rules and regulations affect historically disadvantaged populations, and making sure they have a seat at the table. With respect to West Virginia, the state’s history has many examples of rural communities that have had a decades-long struggle with environmental degradation. Another focus is the climate crisis, a challenge that cuts across all the program areas of the EPA. Farmers and the agricultural community have the most to lose in terms of the impacts of climate changes – with extreme climate changes, farming becomes more risky and less predictable. Our question is how we build more resilience and mitigate the effects.
Q: With climate change, you mentioned the need for both adaptation and mitigation. What do you mean?
Snyder: The whole sector has to adapt to changes: growing regions have shifted and there are new pest pressures and more frequent droughts and flooding. So, the ag sector has to turn to science and look to innovation to help manage that. On the mitigation side, President Biden has spoken about climate solutions, for example, soil carbon sequestration on farms – this is not a regulatory issue, it’s a technology-based approach that could be encouraged, not mandated.
Climate change is an issue where the EPA and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) collaborate. Another example of this collaboration is the AgSTAR program, which promotes methane digesters and manure management, where the EPA provides technical assistance. The EPA also maintains the National Greenhouse Gas Inventory, which allows us to understand agriculture’s impact on emissions.
Q: How will the work you are doing at EPA affect the future economic vitality of the state?
Snyder: West Virginia is at a bit of a crossroads, in terms of what comes next, in terms of building a 21st century economy rooted in green jobs in places like Appalachia. That is on EPA Administrator Regan’s mind. We know demand for coal has been declining for a long time, and to suggest that the future looks like the past is burying our head in the sand. So the Administration’s outlook for the future is exciting – it can be a real partner with WV through this transition – potentially providing new funding for cleanups, as an example.
Q: What advice do you have for young people growing up in the Eastern Panhandle, who want to stay here?
Snyder: I was committed to taking advantage of the proximity to DC to be able to stay in WV. For the last 19 years I’ve taken the MARC train to and from DC on a daily basis and been able to have this career, with my feet in both worlds. Keeping the MARC train is important. If West Virginia is able to improve access to high-speed internet, this opens up new opportunities for young people to stay here, live here, and work for companies that are in other places. And we need to work on the natural character of the area – if we preserve the environment and build internet connections, we can attract people.
Resource: Generation West Virginia (GenerationWV.org) works to attract, retain, and advance young people in the Mountain State.
Rod Snyder, of Shenandoah Junction, is the most recent of a small number of Biden administration senior staff members with ties to the Mountain State who are working on national issues that also have significant relevance to West Virginia. Also serving are Dr. Rahul Gupta, a former WV Commissioner of Public Health, who was selected to lead the Office of National Drug Control Policy and guide the national response to the opioid epidemic, and Aaron Scheinberg of Hedgesville, a veteran of the Iraq war and founder of The Mission Continues (a non-profit focused on reintegrating veterans to civilian life) who was appointed Special Assistant for Congressional and Legislative Affairs at the Department of Veterans Affairs.By Staff Contributor