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Keeping a Close Eye on EPA

Keeping a Close Eye on EPA

The latest on potential ag regulations from Environmental Protection Agency.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) made life interesting for ag lobbyists in 2011. A flurry of regulatory threats, some real and some imagined, came in to play. Here is the latest:

Farm dust

Last fall the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) assured the agricultural community it has no intention to regulate farm dust. Even so, the industry continues to watch the agency closely to ensure it doesn’t overreach its authority. Many groups, such as the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and American Farm Bureau Federation, advocate legislation that prevents federal regulation of natural occurrences and naturally-occurring dust from normal farming operations, unless there is 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 was approved by the full House of Representatives in December by a vote of 268-150.

Now the bill moves to the Senate, where it was also introduced by Senators Mike Johanns, R, Neb., and Charles Grassley, R, Iowa, and has support from 26 bipartisan senators.

NCBA Past President Steve Foglesong says 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 says.

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, says 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 adds. 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 (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 of Engineers 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,” says Mike Deering, NCBA spokesperson. “The information we have is that the proposed rule will come out right after the first of the year.”

Spill containment

The EPA mandated an Oil Spill Prevention, Control and Countermeasure (SPCC) rule that will require oil storage facilities with a capacity over 1,320 gallons to make costly structural improvements to reduce the possibility of oil spills. The plan requires farmers to construct a containment facility, like a dike or a basin, which must retain 110% of the fuel in the container. Last fall EPA said it will delay implementation of the rule until May 2013.

Rep. Rick Crawford, R, Ark., introduced H.R. 3158, the Farmers Undertake Environmental Land Stewardship (FUELS) Act, which would modify the rules by raising the exemption levels to better reflect a producer’s spill risk and financial resources. The exemption level for a single container would be adjusted upward to 10,000 gallons while the aggregate level on a production facility would move to 42,000 gallons. The proposal would also place a greater degree of responsibility on the farmer or rancher to self-certify compliance if it exceeds the exemption level.

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