NCBA Op-Ed: Regulatory reform crucial for producers’ success

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Time and again, the federal government has proven that even the most well-intentioned law can be used to entangle family farmers in bureaucratic red tape and burdensome regulatory costs. In 1972, the Clean Water Act became law with the intended result of combating water pollution, giving the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) broad new regulatory powers. However, over the past decade this law has become an albatross around the necks of producers nationwide, causing millions in unnecessary costs with little proven benefit to the environment or the consumer.

One such instance of this regulatory overreach is a 2009 rule from the EPA’s Spill Prevention Control & Countermeasure (SPCC) program. This revised rule mandates that any farmer or rancher with above-ground oil storage facilities with a capacity of at least 1,320 gallons must make structural modifications to include a containment facility capable of retaining 110 percent of fuel in the container, and have this modification certified by a Professional Engineer (PE). The estimated cost per farmer is estimated to be in the tens of thousands, not counting lost time and effort spent attempting to locate PE’s willing to work on farms. Many states lack even one single qualified PE registered to conduct SPCC certification, making it nearly impossible to comply. This rule is a solution in search of a problem. The EPA possesses neither scientific evidence to support such a rule, nor substantial anecdotal evidence of such on-farm spills. According a 2005 USDA study, it was determined that more than 99% of farmers had not experienced an oil spill in excess of 1,320 gallons – yet according to the USDA the current SPCC rule subjects roughly 70% of farms to this costly and burdensome regulation.

This rule represents a fundamental misunderstanding by the EPA, which fails to grasp that by nature of occupation, family farmers have a vested interest in being careful stewards of land and water. No one has more at stake in responsible environmental conservation than those who work the land from which they derive their livelihood.

Having heard these concerns directly from growers and producers at home in Arkansas, I have introduced H.R. 311, the Farmers Undertake Environmental Land Stewardship (FUELS) Act. The FUELS Act is simple – it modifies the SPCC rule to raise the exemption level from 1,320 gallons to 10,000 gallons, a benchmark the EPA itself used in 2006 to define small farms. Additionally, under the FUELS Act a farmer would only need certification from a PE for on-farm storage above 42,000 gallons. The University of Arkansas estimates that this legislation would save the entire agricultural community up to $3.36 billion in compliance costs, dollars that can be directly reinvested in capital to drive economic growth.

Serving as Chairman of the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Livestock, Rural Development, and Credit, I have heard directly from cattlemen across the country about the critical importance of this legislation. I am continuing to work with my colleagues to advance this bill into law. As the Farm Bill conference committee moves forward, I am pleased the legislative text of the FUELS Act has been included in the House-passed version of the Farm Bill. Additionally, this week the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, of which I am a member, held a markup of my legislation which received bipartisan support and was favorably recommended for action before the full House. With 71 bipartisan cosponsors, this bill continues to gather momentum as farmers at home communicate their support to their representatives in Washington.

As the economy continues to recover, regulatory relief for the agricultural sector is crucial to maintain its success as a driving force of growth and jobs. America remains an international agricultural powerhouse because of our producers’ ability to innovate and out-produce our competitors. We must not limit our potential by inventing crises and piling on pages of bureaucratic regulations to address them. The FUELS Act takes into account scientific data, trusts farmers to take care of the land from which they derive their livelihood, and gets government out of the way of their success. I look forward to continuing to represent the interests of America’s farmers and ranchers in Washington as this issue develops.

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