Farmers, Congress Set Sights on Overreaching EPA

March 1, 2011

The men and women of American agriculture are as diverse as the crops they grow, but they all seem to share one thing in common these days: a general distrust of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Earlier this month, this distrust was on display at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s 92nd annual conference. In addition to announcing a lawsuit against the EPA, the Farm Bureau also passed a resolution urging Congress to step up oversight of the agency.

And it looks like farmers and ranchers will get their wish—EPA opposition appears to be one of the few things on which both parties on Capitol Hill can agree.

When it was announced that Congressman Frank Lucas (R-OK) would chair the House Agriculture Committee, he made it clear that roping in the EPA would be a top priority.

“Oversight is a primary responsibility of Congress and we must fulfill that duty to the American people,” Lucas said. “We will hold oversight hearings of the EPA, which has demonstrated a fondness for overreaching regulations that defy Congressional intent and threaten production agriculture and rural economies.”

He’ll have lots of support from the committee’s top Democrat, too. Last summer, Collin Peterson (D-MN), didn’t mince any words in his assessment of the EPA.

“[EPA] got a big increase in budget under the stimulus bill and they’ve just got too much money, too many people, and they’re getting into too much stuff. And they’re frankly screwing things up,” he said. “They’re raising costs for people, they’re raising the price of food, and I don’t think they’re accomplishing anything. They’re trying to regulate dust, trying to do all kinds of crazy things, and I’ve told the [president] directly that he needs to reign them in.”

This critical assessment of the EPA is shared across the Capitol into the halls of the Senate.

Sen. John Thune (R-SD) refers to the EPA as “public enemy number 1 of our farmers and ranchers,” while Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) has implored the EPA to take lessons from the Department of Agriculture, which “works more cooperatively when it implements new rules.”

Of course, Congress will have its work cut out for it. The EPA has opened up attacks on agriculture on no less than 10 fronts.

Many in agriculture believe that the EPA’s wide-ranging goals, from banning dust on the farm to making rainwater in potholes fishable and swimmable, are as costly to the economy and jobs as they are bizarre.

No wonder there was so much excitement during the Farm Bureau convention when farmers—and apparently their legislators—stepped up the defense against an agency that many believe has lost touch with reality.

“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,” Farm Bureau president Stallman said at the convention.

“Regardless of what happens…farmers will continue their good stewardship efforts,” he concluded. “America’s farmers and ranchers…day after day, are the true environmentalists.”