The far-reaching climate change initiative recently announced by President Barack Obama highlights the power of the executive branch to “go around” their legislative counterparts. It should also serve as a stark reminder of a broader issue – the regulatory gauntlet that must consistently be navigated by the agricultural sector.
Excessive regulation adds costs and creates uncertainty, with farmers having to endure some of the most stringent environmental regulations on agricultural operations in the world. Depending on size and location, some producers may be required to comply with regulatory requirements issued from four levels of government – federal, state, county, and sometimes even townships. In the livestock sector, it is not unheard of for each level of government to have the authority to establish various regulatory and permitting requirements on livestock producers.
Another area that needs review and reform, one that impacts more than agriculture, is the environmental review process. At the very least we must ensure that government environmental review processes at all levels of government are allowed to proceed concurrently rather than requiring farmers who seek to expand or modernize their operations to go thru a multi-stage permitting process.
The concerns of the agricultural sector regarding excessive regulations are real and ongoing, including new regulations related to air emissions from livestock facilities, dust from both on and off road activities, river sediment and diesel emissions. Under President Obama’s watch the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs has routinely over stated the benefits of several regulations and understated their cost in justifying several new emission standards. In doing so the OCIA has relied on the “private benefits” of new regulations in their effort to justify their implementation – which is just another way of saying that the government can make better choices than individuals.
Another example of regulatory overreach run amuck is the attempt by the Environmental Protection Agency – via regulations and guidance – to expand its authority in relation to the Clean Water Act beyond the limits approved by Congress. Although the Clean Water Act clearly limits federal jurisdiction to “navigable” waters of the United States – limits that have twice been reaffirmed by the United States Supreme Court – the Environmental Protection Agency continues to have its sights set on regulatory control over virtually all waters.
In the event they are successful, the Agency would have the authority to regulate any or all waters found within a state – regardless of traditional state prerogatives relating to land use planning and economic growth or how unconnected those waters are to the federal interest. As noted by the American Farm Bureau Federation, the government’s regulatory authority would be expanded to intrastate waters, including: groundwater, ditches, culverts, pipes, erosional features, farm and stock ponds, and prior converted cropland.
There appears to be little disagreement that environmental regulations must be protective of public health or safety. They must also be based on available scientific information that has been subject to peer review. Regulations should be cost-effective, objective, and designed to balance the economic viability of farm operations with protection of natural resources and other community interests. The regulatory review process must be transparent and regulations must be administered in a practical manner so as to prevent undue hardship for farmers.
In an era of budget challenges, examining the role, scope, and impact of government regulations and requirements at all levels of government must be at the center of our policy discussions.
One option would be to amend current law to modify the regulating agency’s authority, either to restrict an action or to require additional action. Although this approach is worthy of pursuit, I submit for your consideration that the key to holding government agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency accountable is for Congress to exercise it fundamental role of oversight of the executive branch – a role that members of congress have not fully embraced and an authority that has not been fully utilized.
Dave Ladd, President of RDL & Associates, is a frequent guest commentator regarding public policy and the political environment and is a co-author of the book, “LIKE: Seven Rules and 10 Simple Steps for Social Media in Your Campaign”. His company, RDL & Associates, assists clients in achieving their legislative and policy objectives via strategic communications, message development and interaction with elected officials and their staff.
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