Concerned Illionois farmer addresses President

As time plows forward, rules and regulations increasingly loom over the agriculture sector, and the government’s seemingly endless role of red tape has threatened farmers from the ability to do their jobs efficiently.

In recent weeks, it has become strikingly clear how out of touch President Obama is with the needs of our nation’s farmers and ranchers. The president’s recent stop on his Midwest bus tour proved his lack of knowledge about the regulatory red tape our farmers are facing today.

On Aug. 17 in Atkinson, Ill., a local farmer expressed his concerns to President Obama about the growing number of rules and regulations, including those concerning dust, noise, and water runoff. President Obama replied saying, “If you hear something is happening, but it hasn’t happened, don’t always believe what you hear.”

“Contact USDA,” Obama went on to say. “Talk to them directly. Find out what it is that you’re concerned about. My suspicion is, a lot of times, they’re going to be able to answer your questions and it will turn out that some of your fears are unfounded.”

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Not only is this statement unrealistic, but one Politico reporter took the president’s advice and proved just that. After a day and a half of phone tag and being transferred from one organization or agency to the next, Politico reporter MJ Lee finally called the USDA’s main media relations headquarters and received this reply via email.

“Secretary Vilsack continues to work closely with members of the Cabinet to help them engage with the agricultural community to ensure that we are separating fact from fiction on regulations because the administration is committed to providing greater certainty for farmers and ranchers. Because the question that was posed did not fall within USDA jurisdiction, it does not provide a fair representation of USDA’s robust efforts to get the right information to our producers throughout the country.”

Lee concluded her article saying “So, still no answer to the farmer’s question.”

Obama’s response to a concerned Illinois farmer struck a nerve elsewhere. There are many champions for agriculture on Capitol Hill, and Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS), ranking member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, took it upon himself to educate the President last Friday in a letter outlining directives and regulations the administration has proposed or has in development that would affect farmers and ranchers in rural America. The letter comes following the town hall meeting the president hosted in Illinois on August 17.

Dear Mr. President:

I write to provide you with insight into actions your Administration is considering that could negatively impact rural America.

At a town hall meeting you hosted in Illinois earlier this week, a farmer expressed the concerns of many producers related to proposed regulations and directives impacting their farming operations. You asked the producer if there was a specific issue concerning him. He mentioned issues including dust pollution, noise pollution and water runoff. You responded, “Yes. Here’s what I’d suggest is the – if you hear something is happening, but it hasn’t happened, don’t always believe what you hear.” You then went on to imply that many of these concerns were created by lobbyists and associations in Washington.

I want to assure you that this farmer’s concerns are justified. To better inform you about the actions being taken by your Administration, included below is a list of proposed rules, directives and actions impacting rural America since your inauguration. While this list is not complete or comprehensive, it provides an overview of the increased regulations and resulting costs American agriculture and rural America face due to actual or proposed actions taken by federal agencies under your direction. The partial list of concerns is as follows:

GIPSA Rule Impacting Livestock Producers – USDA has proposed a new regulation for livestock marketing that will undo years of progress and innovation in the livestock industry. Many of the provisions of this proposed rule were rejected on a bipartisan basis during debate on the last Farm Bill, which was signed into law when you were serving in the United States Senate.

This proposed rule could eliminate the use of many alternative marketing arrangements in the livestock industry. A 2007 GIPSA study showed that over ten years a 25 percent reduction in alternative marketing arrangements would cost feeder cattle producers $5.1 billion; fed cattle producers $3.9 billion; and consumers $2 billion. If marketing arrangements were eliminated, the 10-year cumulative losses for producers and consumers would top $60 billion.

NPDES permits – This duplicative regulatory burden is scheduled to go into effect on October 31, 2011, less than three months from today. It will require 5.6 million applications of pesticides by 365,000 applicators to have NPDES permits to apply pesticides. These permits are duplicative, unnecessary and will add a new requirement under the Clean Water Act for pesticide applications, which are already regulated under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA).

National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for Ozone – EPA has proposed to strengthen the primary ozone standard. Under the proposal, the vast majority of counties with ozone monitors would be considered in nonattainment. If finalized, this could mean that additional rural and/or agricultural counties are designated as non attainment. This will limit the ability of farmers to manage crop residue on their farms and will create a substantial new burden on livestock operations where ammonia and methane are naturally emitted by animals.

PM 10/Dust – EPA is preparing to reconsider its large particulate matter (PM 10) standard. EPA’s Clean Air Advisory Committee has recommended lowering the standard. This is problematic because the current standard is already difficult for many rural counties, especially in the West, to meet. Working and harvesting farm fields is an inherently dusty business, as is driving down rural dirt and logging roads. A change in this rule will make it impossible for many farming and forestry operations to be in compliance and could result in substantial fines for many family operations.

Water Quality Standards Rulemaking – Last year, EPA announced it will propose a rule to strengthen anti-degradation standards, adopt a presumption that all U.S. waters should be fishable and swimmable, and require state decisions to be approved by EPA. In effect, this proposal would federalize decisions historically made by the states under the Clean Water Act.

Climate Change – Proposed new greenhouse gas regulations will increase the cost of virtually every input used in agriculture and forestry production. These regulations will not impact just producers but also agribusinesses. As these businesses face increased costs, those expenses will be passed on to producers and ultimately consumers. This will likely lead to higher food and fuel costs for all Americans while the economy is still struggling.

Clean Water Act Strategy – Earlier this year the Administration announced new “guidance” for federal employees to implement the Clean Water Act, thereby expanding the water bodies included under regulation. This action was taken without adherence to federal regulatory process through the promulgation of a regulation in the Federal Register. This expansion of the Clean Water Act will impact farmers and ranchers, not to mention increased burdens on States.

Spray Drift Policy – Last year, EPA proposed a rule to help states identify and prevent drift. The proposed rule counters decades old EPA policies that acknowledge small levels of spray drift are unavoidable. In fact, EPA has long recognized some de minimus level of spray drift will occur from most or all applications as a result of using pesticides. The proposed policy establishes a precautionary principle approach and is inconsistent with FIFRA.

Prior Converted Cropland – In April 2009, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers adopted a policy that “once a property changes from agricultural use to non-agricultural use, a prior converted cropland (PCC) designation is no longer applicable.” Therefore, the moment agricultural use ceases on PCC, the PCC designation is no longer valid and a jurisdictional determination will be conducted under a provision in the Corps’s Wetlands Delineation Manual that allows the Corps to assert jurisdiction over areas that do not exhibit all three wetlands characteristics. This is contrary to current Corps of Engineers policy and was adopted without any public input.

Atrazine – In response to a New York Times article, EPA has announced an unscheduled re-review of atrazine. Atrazine was favorably reviewed by EPA in 2006 and is scheduled to begin registration review in 2013. Reviews should be based on scientific justifications and established timelines and should not be done in response to a single press report.

Arsenic and Dioxin Risk Assessments – EPA is considering a cancer risk factor for arsenic that will cause virtually all soils to exceed the agency’s target risk range as well as a risk factor for dioxin that will cause nearly all agricultural products to exceed the agency’s level of concern. This means rice, wheat, corn meal, peanuts, apples, lettuce, carrots, onions, sugar, and tap water would be considered unsafe. Since 2000, the incidence of dioxin contamination has dropped 90 percent.

Mr. President, I hope this list of regulations provides more clarity on the real, proposed regulations and directives by your administration that will add costs to every farming, livestock and forestry operation in this country. They will also increase costs for consumers and limit opportunity for economic activity in rural communities across the country. I urge you to do all that you can to put the brakes on this regulatory agenda aimed at further weakening the economy in rural America.


Pat Roberts
Ranking Member

Politico Article:

Roberts’ Press Release: