Farmers Fight Back

The American Farm Bureau Federation sues the Environmental Protection Agency.

On Sunday, American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) President Bob Stallman announced that his group would be filing a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Monday in U.S. District Court in Scranton, Pennsylvania.  The head of the six million member organization told his members that the EPA's "over-regulation endangers our industry."  "Our message to the new Congress is clear: It is time to stop the EPA," said Stallman. "But we don't intend to leave this to Congress alone. We are prepared to carry this battle to the courts."

What Stallman is attempting to block is the Chesapeake Bay "pollution diet" announced by EPA on December 29.  Based on the EPA's determination to regulate greenhouse gases, which political advocates insist are one of the primary causes of global warming, the "diet" is an attempt to impose tighter controls on wastewater runoff from cities and agricultural concerns.  Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia will be required to produce a 25% reduction in nitrogen, a 24% reduction in phosphorus and a 20% reduction in sediment runoff by 2025.  Much of that reduction would be achieved by limiting farm fertilizer runoff and placing controls on large-scale animal feeding operations. The EPA announced that "mandatory controls on agriculture" could be enacted as early as 2013 in in Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and New York state if reductions in pollution "fall behind schedule."

According to Stallman, "the diet threatens to starve agriculture out of the entire 64,000 square-mile Chesapeake Bay watershed," and that government regulators "are ready to downsize American agriculture, mothball our productivity and out-source our farms," adding that EPA's "over-regulation endangers our industry."  Cattlemen and farmers contend that complying with these and other new regulations will cost millions of dollars.

Stallman insists that state governments should be in charge of farming regulations, not the EPA.   The Obama administration supports EPA control, claiming there has been a lack of progress by state governments to protect the waterway.  According to the Baltimore Sun, "(U)rban and farm runoff, air pollution and sewage overflows have created areas known as 'dead zones,' places where oxygen is sucked from the water by algae blooms that prevent sunlight from reaching underwater marine life. Pollution and disease nearly killed off the bay oyster. The blue crab population has just started to rebound after tighter restrictions on their harvest."

Bryan Shaw, chairman of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, and Charles H. Bronson, Florida’s Commissioner of Agriculture from 2000 to 2010, both in attendance at the meeting, believe the EPA is engaging in a power grab that threatens the future of production agriculture in the U.S, and warned that the "unchecked" agency will impose enormous costs on far more than the agricultural community, with consumers and taxpayers bearing the burden of those costs as well.  Shaw characterized the EPA as "very creative, making their own rules,” noting that more stringent air pollution regulations in Texas will be placed on "most internal combustion engines used on farms and ranches," even those as small as 20 horsepower machines.  He added that the new rules demonstrate that the EPA has an "ominous goal" of forcing governments and businesses across the nation to adopt alternative energy sources "regardless of the cost," noting that agricultural producers will be faced with price spikes in fuel, fertilizer and transportation.  “It is going to raise the cost of everything,” he predicted.

Charles H. Bronson was equally alarmed by the EPA's aim to revise National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit requirements under which any transfer of water would require a permit. “Every farm would have to have a filtration system of some kind on the water before it leaves for another location,” he said. Characterizing this system as a “bureaucratic nightmare,” Bronson estimated that farmers and ranchers would be hit with additional costs ranging from $900 million to $1.6 billion, accompanied by a loss of 1,400 jobs.  “We need to have a more scientifically open and transparent process,” Bronson said. “We need to have an honest debate with the American people about the cost of this policy.”

Bronson cited the EPA's handing of Florida water management as an example of their overreach.  In 2008, the agency settled a lawsuit with environmental groups, agreeing to establish "nutrient criteria" for all the water in the state, ignoring years of scientific research by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection,  the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, and other experts, locking the state government entirely out of the process. Bronson says the new rules "will cost agriculture $4 billion to $10 billion a year to meet the standards,” and taxpayers using municipal water systems would be hit with an additional $8.1 billion charge.  “This is simply an unacceptable burden for Florida,” he added.

Those attending the AFBF meeting expressed the most enthusiasm for Mr. Stallman's characterization of the EPA as "a clear and present danger"  to agriculture.  "We will not stand idly by while opponents of today's American agriculture try to drag us down, try to bury us in bureaucratic red tape and costly regulation, and try to destroy the most productive and efficient agricultural system in the world,"  Stallman vowed.  The organization is already resisting EPA regulations requiring farmers to obtain EPA permits before spraying crops with pesticide- and disease-killing chemicals.  Rep. Frank Lucas, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee announced that EPA rules regarding both "spray drift' and "farm dust" will be reviewed by Congress this year.  The AFBF delegates, who set the organization's policies will likely approve a resolution on Tuesday requesting Congress to "rein in the EPA."

In a related vein, Reuters reports that French president Nicolas Sarkozy will be meeting with Barack Obama next week.  One of the main topics of the meeting?  Soaring international food prices, which the NY Times reports hit a "record high" in December.  Environmental activists contend climate disruptions caused by global warming are the principal reason.

The Obama administration and EPA head Lisa Jackson have made it clear they consider that organization beyond the reach of Congressional restraint.  Republican Congressmen Darrel Issa (R-CA) and Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) intend to hold hearings to determine the validity of science used as the basis for EPA regulations.  The bigger battle will be about the separation of power between the Executive and Legislative branches of the federal government, with the Obama administration pushing to expand its ability to rule by fiat wherever possible.

Food prices are extremely important to Americans, but the stakes here are far higher.  If the EPA can bypass Congress, America is heading into largely uncharted waters, a sentiment best expressed by  Phil Nelson, president of the Illinois Farm Bureau: "We think that agency is out of control right now..."

Arnold Ahlert is a contributing columnist to the conservative website