Farm groups back freezes in regulatory process

Sep 23, 2011
by WLJ

Agriculture groups are championing various new proposals to ban or freeze federal agencies from issuing new regulations on a variety of fronts.

A bill introduced by Sen. Mike Johanns, R-NE, would again block the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from regulating farm dust.

The National Council of Farmer Cooperatives (NCFC) has come out wanting Congress to enact a two-year moratorium “on all discretionary, non-essential regulatory action that would increase the cost of agricultural production and process in the United States.” NCFC wrote the House and Senate Agriculture Committees supporting legislation for such a moratorium.

“Make no mistake, this is a jobs and employment issue just as much as it is an agricultural policy issue,” said Chuck Conner, president and CEO of NCFC.

“Some 21 million jobs across the country are directly or indirectly dependent on agriculture. If our agricultural sector can preserve its competitiveness in the global marketplace, we can grow this number and be an important part of an economic recovery. However, if we are weighted down with costs imposed by regulations of doubtful value, we will lose market share to our competitors and undo the hard work of millions of Americans.”

NCFC cited specific examples, including potential changes to regulations on dust, livestock and poultry marketing. Johanns offered three bills, including one that would issue a two-year freeze on most new rules and regulations. One bill also would prevent regulatory agencies from expanding their jurisdiction through rules, such as the way EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers can classify waterways regulated under the Clean Water Act. Johanns’ last bill would again block EPA from regulating farm dust.

Sen. Susan Collins, R- ME, also introduced legislation last week that would place a moratorium on new business regulations costing more than $100 million a year, excluding certain rules such as those affecting imminent threats to human health or safety, or other emergencies. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-GA, announced he is co-signing Collins’ bill.

The American Farm Bureau issued a news release supporting Johanns’ legislation that would block EPA from regulating dust from farms. EPA has not actually promulgated any such rule, but farm groups and lawmakers have spent nearly a year criticizing a scientific advisory panel recommendation that EPA tighten its standards on particulate matter, which could affect dust from agricultural operations.

“The current rules pertaining to dust are adequate,” said Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman. “Increased regulation of farm dust could result in decreased productivity and higher food prices, coupled with lost jobs in the rural economy. Moreover, the scientific basis for establishing such regulation has been called into question and it has not been demonstrated that the benefits of EPA regulation would outweigh the costs.”

Still, Farm Bureau hasn’t come out in support of a full moratorium on federal rules, and the group also supports USDA moving ahead on the controversial livestock-marketing rule, commonly called the GIPSA rule. A Farm Bureau spokesperson responded in an email that the group “is evaluating the impact of broader proposals that would place a more general moratorium on regulations to assess their impact on the sector as a whole.”

Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union, said it is important that a proper regulatory balance is found.

“Regulations should be based on realistic goals, but an outright moratorium on all business regulations could do more harm than good,” Johnson said. “After all, loss of regulatory oversight over the last decade was largely responsible for the economic problems we have been experiencing.”

Johnson added that proper regulations need to be in place to ensure clean air and water. Regulations must take into consideration the unique characteristics of agriculture and that factors such as weather are out of a farmer’s control, he said.

“Instead of spending time and effort trying to block regulations, we should be working to maximize the resources available for voluntary approaches like the farm bill conservation programs,” Johnson said.

At a House Oversight and Government Reform hearing on Sept. 14, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association cited a study from last year stating the USDA livestock-marketing rule would result in job losses of more than 22,000 farmers and 104,000 workers throughout the livestock industry.

Yet, livestock groups might not be able to advocate for an outright moratorium on new rules. Livestock producers who testified at a House Agriculture Subcommittee hearing on livestock feed availability directly advocated for tighter regulatory restrictions on market speculators they see helping push up the price of grains. Producers cited that the Commodity Futures Trading Commission proposed rule for speculators would instead further increase financial speculative limits rather than tighten them.

The House Agriculture Committee also has been aggressive in recent weeks in pushing for a reduction in regulations. The committee’s Republican leadership

issued a news release last week calling on the Senate to pass H.R. 872, which would reduce permitting requirements on pesticide applications by farmers. If the bill doesn’t pass, EPA is expected to finalize a rule requiring significantly more producers to apply for permits than are now required to apply. — DTN

Rocky Mountain Oysters fascinate Trevor and Tavis Lawrence from Kingman, AZ, while visiting the Duncan family for their branding.—Photo by Joan Duncan.