A small group of environmentalists met privately with the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for half an hour Thursday afternoon in Des Moines to discuss federal regulation of large-scale livestock operations.

David Goodner of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement said the EPA administrator promised the group she wouldn’t let anybody “off the hook.”

“Sounds good, really doesn’t mean a whole lot, but that’s the best line we got out of her during the whole meeting,” Goodner said late Thursday afternoon.

He described the half-hour meeting with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy as both “productive” and “tense.” McCarthy has been on the job for about three weeks. Cherie Mortice another Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement member who was in on the meeting — didn’t get the impression McCarthy was ready to act.

“She’s got to be willing to really stick her neck out and try to crackdown directly on corporate ag,” Mortice said, “or we’re going to get nowhere.”

The EPA administrator told a crowd of farmers at the Iowa State Fair on Thursday that she wanted to build a “more trusting relationship with the agriculture community.” Mortice said that’s a disappointment.

“She came out here to create better relationships with corporate ag and corporate ag has been running the show to begin with,” Mortice said. “I think it’s going to take a tougher stand than that.”

Representatives of the Iowa Sierra Club and the Environmental Integrity Project were also present during the private meeting with McCarthy. The groups are threatening a lawsuit if the EPA doesn’t step in and regulate large-scale livestock operations and limit how much manure and fertilizers can be applied to Iowa farm fields. Governor Terry Branstad has been pushing the EPA to accept a voluntary plan to reduce nitrate run-off into Iowa lakes and streams.