If you want a dirty look in farm country, you might as well just say EPA, and you’ll get an earful on how the Environmental Protection Agency has regulated its way into farmers’ backyard.
EPA has hit the road and is trying to get a better image in front of farmers. However, former Secretary of Agriculture and current Nebraska Sen. Mike Johanns isn’t falling for the “charm offensive.”
According to the American Soybean Association, ASA board member Bruce Hall and other farmer leaders from major commodity and farm groups recently met with Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. ASA said Jackson provided some encouraging statement’s on how EPA would proceed on some dicey regulations that have stirred trouble in the countryside. The question is whether farmers can believe the statements.
Hall asked Jackson about pending changes to pesticide spray drift labeling, and her response was that earlier proposed changes were not right, and would have resulted in farmers being measured against a standard that no one could ever meet. She reiterated that EPA does not and cannot have a "no spray drift" policy.
Other topics discussed at the meeting were the new National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit and pending legislation that would eliminate the new permit requirement; the broken process for Endangered Species Act consultations; implementation of the Chesapeake Bay Initiative; new oil spill prevention regulations; the use of sulfuryl fluoride by rice farmers; numeric nutrient standards; and proposed guidance for Clean Water Act jurisdiction.
On the NPDES permit, Jackson reiterated that it only applies in instances where the intent is to apply pesticides to water, and does not apply to run-off or spray drift. On proposed guidance to the Clean Water Act, Jackson pointed out that EPA’s proposal preserves an agriculture exemption, as well as all exemptions for prior converted cropland.
Johanns, said in a recent floor speech, that EPA’s public relations campaign is a “good old fashioned charm offensive,” selling to the public what doesn’t match up with reality. “They say one thing on the road while the regulatory train continues to barrel forward,” Johanns said.
Johanns said 33 senators sent a letter to EPA administrators seeking more information about the dust standard rules. Although Jackson has continually gone on record saying that the agency has “no plans” to regulate agricultural dust, the senators received a letter back from EPA assistant administrator Gina McCarthy that the “source of dust doesn’t matter and that EPA cannot consider costs when it sets the standards. National air quality standards are not focused on any specific category of sources or any activity including activities relating to agriculture or rural roads.”
Johanns went on to say how agency actions are counter to Jackson’s statements on regulating water under the Clean Water Act, the implications of greenhouse gas regulations in the form of higher energy costs to farmers and regulation of farm runoff.
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, in his latest Ag Minute broadcast, discussed the negative economic impact of a stricter regulatory standard for dust controls on the agricultural economy. The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to review the standards for particle pollution every five years. Jackson is expected to make a decision this summer on whether to maintain the current standard.
"In order to come into compliance with a tighter standard, farmers would have to cut back on production activities, sell off portions of their cattle, or not farm on dry days. Worst, farmers would have to divert resources away from producing food and fiber just to find ways to settle dust,” Lucas said. "Currently, feedyards in dry climates are spending as much as $1,000 a day to control it.”
Lucas recently joined with his colleagues in cosponsoring H.R. 1633, The Farm Dust Regulation Act of 2011. This legislation would block dust regulation by the EPA in rural areas where state dust laws are already in effect.
"EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson likes to say that the threat of a stricter standard is just a ‘myth and misconception.’ Unless she backs up her words, this is nothing more than a hollow assurance," he said.
In the Senate, a bill was introduced which would require EPA to consider the costs of its proposed regulations before enacting them. Introduced as an amendment to the Economic Development Administration Reauthorization Act, it would require a comprehensive analysis of the total economic impact of EPA’s rules on jobs, retail electricity rates and gasoline prices; power plant closures; state and local governments; small businesses; electric reliability; and energy-intensive manufacturers.
"It's time to force EPA back to reality by requiring the agency to consider the costly, job-killing impact of their outlandish regulations," saidJohanns. "An interagency review of all EPA proposals is the only way for Americans to know exactly how they will impact our job creators and the economy. If EPA is going to continue expanding its regulations, it needs to be honest about the lasting effects on our country's economy."
The amendment would require a committee comprised of agency heads to analyze the economic and energy impacts of EPA regulatory proposals. The amendment would not constrain EPA's regulatory power; it would only serve to make the costs and impacts more transparent. Sens. Johanns and Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., in March introduced identical legislation, entitled the Comprehensive Assessment of Regulations on the Economy (CARE) Act.
Policy is one of the most important issues facing farmers today, but often the most difficult to digest. Jacqui Fatka has a passion to decode the often difficult world of agricultural policy into terms understandable for today's ag players.
Fatka joined the Farm Progress team as E-Content Editor in August 2003 after graduating from Iowa State University. Prior to full-time employment with Farm Progress, she interned at Wallaces Farmer magazine, Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley's press office and the Iowa Pork Producers Association and freelanced for National Hog Farmer. She also worked as a public relations consultant with Iowa Industries for the Future, an effort to bring together major players in the biorenewables industry.
Currently Fatka is a staff editor at a sister publication, Feedstuffs. For Farm Futures she regularly tells the story of ongoing agricultural policy changes. Her byline can also be found on management profiles.
Fatka grew up on a grain and livestock farm near Atlantic, Iowa. She currently lives in central Ohio with her husband Eric, and their three children - Josiah, Spencer and Avonell.
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