Congress Works to Slow EPA Regulatory Train

Legislators tackle farm dust, pesticide permits and Clean Water Act in hopes of preventing EPA from implementing feared regulations.

This fall the Environmental Protection Agency made assurances to the agricultural community that the agency does not plan to regulate farm dust. The industry continues to watch the EPA closely to ensure it doesn’t overreach its authority and on some issues are seeking legislative fixes to address the problems.

In mid-November, the House Small Business Subcommittee on Agriculture, Energy and Trade, heard testimony from farm groups on how EPA proposals to exert greater regulatory control over agriculture will drive up the cost of producing food, fiber and fuel. (Click here to view a video and read more testimony from the Farm Bureau.) Here are a few hot button issues worrying the agricultural community. 

Farm dust

Many groups, such as the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and American Farm Bureau Federation, are advocating legislation that prevents federal regulation of natural occurrences and naturally occurring dust from normal farming operations, unless there is a substantial evidence of adverse health impacts.

On Nov. 30, the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce voted 33-16 in support of H.R. 1633, the Farm Dust Regulation Prevention Act of 2011. The legislation now heads to the full House of Representatives for a vote, which is expected as soon as next week (first week in December).

If H.R. 1633 passes the House, it will move to the Senate, where it was introduced by Senators Mike Johanns, R-Neb. and Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and has support from 26 bipartisan senators.

NCBA Past President Steve Foglesong said the legislation is necessary to provide assurances that EPA won’t come back and later try to change the rules. “I have a lot more faith in elected officials than some regulatory agency like EPA,” he said.

Pesticide permits

The Pesticide General Permit went into effect Nov. 1. It is seen as a “needless duplication of existing law” as the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act covers pesticide labeling and application.    

Rick Krause, senior director of Congressional relations at AFBF, said EPA has said it doesn’t intend to enforce permit requirements until mid-January. Hopefully this will give Congress the time to enact a fix, he said. Both the House and Senate Ag Committees have approved a legislative fix, but the full Senate hasn’t acted on the bill.

Clean Water Act

The EPA has been working on a guidance to define waters of the United States, and many in agriculture fear an expanded definition could include any kind of pond, ditch, or ephemeral streams (which are streams with water in them only during rainfall events). If accomplished, EPA would have federal jurisdiction of those “waters” and require permits for any discharge.

While the guidance has not been finalized yet, the agencies are quickly moving forward to a rulemaking redefining the term “waters of the United States” to codify the guidance. It has been reported that EPA and the Corps may walk away from the guidance only to send a proposed rule, which would likely contain much of the exact language in the guidance to expand the types and number of waters subject to the CWA, to the Office of Management and Budget in the coming weeks.

“The agency is moving forward with the rulemaking and may or may not finalize the guidance. Our fear is that the rule will look substantively like the guidance, therefore expanding the jurisdiction of the CWA,” said Mike Deering, NCBA spokesperson. “The information we have is that the proposed rule will come out right after the first of the year.”

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