Congress Stepping Up to Reduce Producer Crippling Regulations
February 8, 2018
Ranchers testify at the Capitol on red-tape expenses
By Traci Eatherton
Law makers seem to be making headway for producers and farmers in the regulatory battle, despite the constant backlash from those who don't understand the ins and outs of the industry that feeds the nation.
Niels Hansen, Secretary/Treasurer of the Public Lands Council (PLC), testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works to explain how onerous federal regulations undermine conservation goals.
"Cattle producers pride themselves on being good stewards of our country's natural resources. We maintain open spaces, healthy rangelands, provide wildlife habitat and feed the world. Despite these critical contributions, our ability to effectively steward these resources is all too often hampered by excessive federal regulations like the ones we are discussing today," Hansen said in written testimony.
"Cattle producers throughout the country continue to suffer the brunt of regulatory and economic uncertainty due to the abuse of the Endangered Species Act…Years of abusive litigation by radical environmental groups have taken a toll, and the result is a system badly in need of modernization," Hansen testified.
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Hansen – a third-generation rancher and industry leader in environmental stewardship – asked Congress to empower ranchers and local land managers by reducing the regulatory burdens they face.
"By freeing our industry from overly burdensome federal regulations and allowing us to provide the kind of stewardship and ecosystem services only we can, you will do more for healthy ecosystems and environments than top down restrictions from Washington ever can," he said.
Lawmakers on board have echoed Hansen's thoughts, adding that the costs of regulations also effect consumers.
"America's farmers face an endless maze of red tape, approvals, permits and expensive regulations, all of which make their jobs more difficult and drive up food costs for consumers," House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway, R-TX, said in a statement.
The 2015 Waters of the United States Rule:
Last year, President Trump declared the 2015 WOTUS law, "a horrible, horrible rule," tasking EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to replace it with a more "industry-friendly" definition.
"As a livestock producer, the 2015 WOTUS Rule has the potential to negatively affect every aspect of my operation by placing the regulation of every tributary, stream, pond, and dry streambed in the hands of the federal government, rather the states and localities that understand Wyoming's unique water issues," Hansen said.
WOTUS was set to take effect, following the Supreme Courts decision that cases regarding the rule should be heard by district courts. But Pruitt took action prior to its implementation.
"Today, EPA is taking action to reduce confusion and provide certainty to America's farmers and ranchers," Pruitt said. "The 2015 WOTUS rule developed by the Obama administration will not be applicable for the next two years, while we work through the process of providing long-term regulatory certainty across all 50 states about what waters are subject to federal regulation."
While the news offered relief to producers, the battle is far from over.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced he will lead a multi-state lawsuit against the Trump administration for suspending the Clean Water Rule. He tweeted that the Trump administration's suspension of the Clean Water Rule was "reckless and illegal."
"The Clean Water Rule is a common sense application of the law and the best science to protect our waters," Schneiderman said. "The Trump Administration's suspension of these vital protections is reckless and illegal. That is why I will lead a multi-state coalition that will sue to block this rollback in court."
The Hill reported that the Natural Resources Defense Council has also pledged to sue, and rumors are out that the Sierra Club and Earth Justice may follow suit.
The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals determined in April 2017 that the EPA did not have authority to exempt agriculture from the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) reporting requirements. This removed an exemption for agriculture that was on the books for 10 years.
This past fall, the court extended the deadline for reporting to January 22, 2018. While the stay on the reporting mandate runs through January 22, reporting requirements do not actually take effect until the court enters such an order, which has not occurred. EPA has filed a request for an additional extension of the deadline.
"Congress never intended these laws to govern everyday farm and ranch activity. When the mandate issues, nearly 200,000 farmers and ranchers will be on the hook to report low-level livestock manure odors to the government," Hansen testified.
Last month, Pruitt took a stand next to cattle producers, denying a petition brought by environmental activist groups.
The EPA decision, posted in the Federal Register, answers a petition filed in 2009 by The Humane Society of the United States and other activist groups. While CAFOs could still be regulated at some point, a lack of measuring ability makes the mandate difficult to enforce.
"There is no official formula to calculate," Scott Yager, environmental council with National Cattlemen's Beef Association said, relating to the reportable quantity (RQ) limits.
Endangered Species Act:
On Jan. 31, Pruitt spoke at the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture Winter Policy Conference and signed a Memorandum of Agreement establishing an interagency working group to evaluate and improve the Endangered Species Act consultation process for pesticide registration.
"The current Endangered Species Act pesticide consultation process is broken," Pruitt said. "The Trump administration is taking action to improve and accelerate this process, harmonize interagency efforts and create regulatory certainty for America's farmers and ranchers."
The EPA said the new cooperation on endangered species comes at a "critical time" when the agency is looking to complete 700 pesticide registrations over the next four years.
The Interior Department is also on track to downsize ESA protections on a number of species to make it easier to build infrastructure and open public lands.
ESA success has been an argument of contention for years, with only one percent of species (20 out of 2,000) under protection of the Act having recovered sufficiently to qualify for delisting. The millions of dollars spent on failed recovery efforts are difficult to justify.
As of Feb. 8, there are 1661 plants and animals, in the U.S. alone, listed on the endangered or threatened list.
The action on these regulations has activists stepping up to do battle with litigation and threats.
"It's really disturbing to see Barrasso and other Senate Republicans bending over backward to please polluters and the pesticide industry," said Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity. "The price will be dirtier rivers and streams, and more wildlife on the fast track toward extinction."