Can Congress Halt EPA's Overarching Authority?

Can Congress Halt EPA's Overarching Authority?

Expect increased oversight and a closer watch on the purse strings at the Environmental Protection Agency.

It's no secret that in farm country most are unhappy with last year's attempts by the Environmental Protection Agency to increase regulations for everything from spray drift to greenhouse gases.

By looking at the increase in EPA's budget once President Barack Obama entered office, it's no surprise to see how EPA has been able to accomplish so much. In fiscal year 2009, EPA's budget was $7.643 billion with a workforce of 16,988. In fiscal year 2010 that increased to $10.297 billion with 17,278 workers.

Last year Congress was unable to pass budget bills, meaning this year's Congress which is more budget conscious and questioning of Obama's policies will control the purse strings and increase oversight hearings.

Otto Doering, agricultural economist at Purdue University, says Republicans on the Hill will try to decimate EPA's budget. He said most people agree it was a political mistake by the agency to try to regulate carbon dioxide emissions, and this year they'll pay for it.

Mary Kay Thatcher, policy analyst with American Farm Bureau Federation, states she doesn't anticipate EPA "backing off one ounce from where they were at last year" on hot issues. However, she says House Speaker John Boehner will institute a tremendous amount of oversight.

"EPA really overreached and it is somewhat of bipartisan concern," Thatcher adds. Not every regulation will get overturned or scaled-back, but Thatcher said agriculture will have to decide which battles need to be fought.

At their annual meeting, AFBF delegates approved a resolution calling for more congressional oversight of the EPA's regulatory actions. They asked Congress to assess the impact that EPA regulations would have on agriculture and to consider legislation to stop EPA's regulation of greenhouse gases.

"EPA's regulatory reach continues to metastasize at the expense of our ability to produce food, fiber and fuel, and EPA often does not recognize the contributions that farmers and ranchers have made to reduce soil loss and produce more with less land, water, nutrients and other inputs," says Bob Stallman, AFBF president. "We need more common sense and less negativity toward production agriculture in the enforcement of the nation's existing environmental statutes."

AFBF announced on Jan. 10 that it was filing a federal lawsuit to halt the EPA's Chesapeake Bay pollution regulatory plan. AFBF said that the agency overreached by setting up a plan for the entire 64,000 square-mile Chesapeake watershed, usurped state control, relied on faulty data and failed to account for agriculture's contributions to improving water quality, and provided insufficient information and time for the public to check EPA's actions.

More than 15 legislative and policy initiatives could dramatically change the regulatory environment for cattle producers throughout the country, says Tamara Thies, National Cattlemen's Beef Association's chief environmental counsel.

"The regulatory climate in Washington, D.C. is intense when it comes to environmental issues," says Thies. "Agriculture has become a target for onerous environmental regulation, more so than ever. Our industry has had constant battles with the current administration. There is an ever-increasing number of issues that are amounting to what I call a 'perfect storm' for cattle producers."

Citing the EPA interpretation of greenhouse gas regulation under the Clean Air Act as just one example of how over reaching some of the regulation can be, Thies says, "NCBA does not believe that Congress intended EPA to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act, and is supporting congressional efforts to stop EPA from acting outside of its role as an agency. Until Congress acts, EPA should not."

EPA's proposed dust and ammonia regulation, as well as several initiatives focused on water quality and the Clean Water Act are also top concerns.

TAGS: Regulatory
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