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EPA Regulations Pose Greatest Agricultural Threat in 2013

DC Dialogue

Onslaught of regulations could include navigable waters, nutrient runoff, CAFO regs and climate change as well as child labor laws resurfacing.

Published on: February 6, 2013

Today in the policy world, it's no longer what Congress is doing (or not doing it seems these days), but rather many of the behind the scenes, quieter attempts to bring forced change to your business from regulators and those inside the administration.

In the aftermath of no action on the farm bill, legislators and lobbyists criticized those in the countryside for not letting their representatives know of the need for a farm bill. The same should not be true for what's ahead. With the agenda laid before us now, regulations on the horizon will warrant attention and perspective from those in agriculture.

In his inaugural address, President Barack Obama voiced that he isn't backing down on some top priorities he failed to enact during his first term. Near the beginning of his speech, he defended his actions of imposing regulations as the government's responsibility to step in and level the economic playing field.

"We discovered that a free market only thrives when there are rules to ensure competition and fair play," Obama said. 

Republicans have made it their battle cry to prevent the overregulation, and for the agricultural industry have helped slow the slew of regulations that have been attempted over the past few years. Environmental regulations seem to top the list.

House Agriculture Committee chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., said he will continue to hold administrators accountable for their regulatory actions and recalled how one of the liveliest hearings of the last session was when Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) director Lisa Jackson sat before the committee for a number of hours. "I can assure everyone, and whoever the ultimate new director is, he or she will spend a lot of quality time with the Ag Committee," Lucas said.

During comments during the House Ag Committee's first business meeting of the session, Lucas' counterpart ranking member Rep. Collin Peterson (D., Minn.) added it will be important for the committee to keep a close eye on EPA and "keep them reined in as much as possible," he said, which he followed by a light chuckle.

The chuckle may be in recognition of the need to rein in EPA "as much as possible" because the agency continues to target the countryside with regulations. It will be essential for Congress to keep the agency in check and for farmers and agribusinesses to let their voices be heard.

Don Parrish, senior director of regulatory relations at the American Farm Bureau Federation, said the agricultural industry is "bracing for an onslaught of additional new environmental regulations" in 2013.

Earlier in December Jackson did stand on her word that the agency would not pursue more stringent dust standards for farms, although legislators are still seeking a legislative commitment over just the assurances from the agency.

Parrish added that overall farmers and ranchers are bracing for a lot of "what if" scenarios that could come down the regulatory process and it will be a wait and see process including how the agency plans to regulate U.S. waters and pesticide regulations.

Several bills have been introduced in Congress to repeal the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act. So far, they have not gained any traction in the Senate.

Controlling run-off is also being pursued by environmentalists and court challenges, forcing the administration to take action. EPA did recently allow for Florida to set its own nutrient numeric standards for runoff, and other states are trying to pursue their own actions to allow for state-driven, rather than EPA-driven rules.

The National Cattlemen's Beef Association noted recently that the Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) rule is back in the environmental news circuit. EPA announced in October another round of comments on the Clean Water Act (CWA) regulation for CAFOs. The request for comments is in response to requirements of the Regulatory Flexibility Act, which requires that a review of the impacts of a regulation that’s been certified to have a substantial effect on small businesses be conducted by the issuing agency within ten years of the regulation’s publication.

NCBA said the agency may use the review to determine whether the regulation should be continued without change, or should be amended or rescinded. It’s estimated that 40% of all CAFO facilities fall under the small entity provision, according to EPA. Even though in its announcement the agency said that it is looking for comments on “whether there is a ‘continued need’ for regulations on CAFOs,” and “the extent to which the rule overlaps, duplicates, or conflicts with other federal, state, or local government regulations,” it is unlikely that EPA will ease the burden of the CAFO rule on farmers and ranchers, NCBA said. Originally set to close on Dec. 31, the comment period is likely to be extended until Mar. 1, 2013.

Labor laws

Last year another major regulation that caught the ear of Congress after the countryside rose up in opposition was attempts to change child labor laws for farm workers. Despite Dept. of Labor officials backing down on much stricter requirements, a CNN writer penned an opinion piece stating, "Obama should reopen the child agricultural labor proposal he shelved in spring of 2012. Surely, farm labor standards for children can be strengthened without killing off 4-H or Future Farmers of America," author Cristina L.H. Traina said.

And if you thought climate change has fallen off the radar of the President, think again.

In his inaugural speech he said the threat of climate change would betray children and future generations if action isn't taken. "Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires and crippling drought and more powerful storms," he said.  

Obama added the "path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult," and added it is what is needed to maintain our forests and waterways, croplands and snow-capped peaks.