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Farmers Aim at EPA Regs in Ag Hearing
By Todd Neeley
Friday, July 12, 2024 7:50AM CDT

LINCOLN, Neb. (DTN) -- Agriculture industry officials and farmers told the House Agriculture Committee on Wednesday they are concerned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been charting a regulatory path for the industry largely without their input.

Though invited by the committee to testify during a hearing focused on the agency's regulation of agriculture, EPA Administrator Michael Regan did not attend.

The hearing focused on a wide range of EPA regulations from the waters of the U.S. rule, to dicamba, to new agency efforts to enforce the Endangered Species Act.

House Ag Committee Chairman Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Pa., said in his opening statement that the Biden EPA has shown an unwillingness to work with farmers and ranchers.

"Unfortunately, the Biden administration has compounded this uncertainty with an unworkable regulatory regime that creates even greater costs and ambiguity for our farmers and ranchers," he said.

Last April the committee held a hearing that included Regan to talk about how agency actions affect farmers. It was the first time an EPA administrator appeared before the ag committee since 2016.

"At that hearing, Administrator Regan repeatedly indicated his willingness to work with farmers and ranchers as his agency promulgated rules and regulations impacting their livelihoods," Thompson said.

"While those statements appeared encouraging, since that hearing the agency has announced an onslaught of rules and regulations that contradict these collaborative statements."

House Ag Committee ranking member Rep. David Scott, D-Ga., said he believes Regan had "made significant strides" to include farmers in the regulatory process.

"Based on the title and tenor around today's hearing, Republicans clearly intend to use this forum to lambast EPA for their work," Scott said.

"All the while ignoring that EPA may be acting in response to court orders and other legal actions. It is apparent that farmers and the EPA can have a working relationship. Administrator Regan has made cultivating that relationship a priority."


Chris Chinn, director of the Missouri Department of Agriculture, a fifth-generation farmer in Clarence, Missouri, told the committee there's still a need for the EPA to cooperate with states and producers.

In particular, Chinn said EPA's effort launched in 2021 to improve compliance with the Endangered Species Act has been a sore spot for state regulators who want to work hand-in-hand with the agency.

"Unfortunately, in part due to substantial legal challenges, NASDA (National Association of State Departments of Agriculture) members are concerned that the EPA office of pesticide programs has produced regulations and frameworks that will have substantial negative impacts on our nation's farmers and ranchers," she said.

EPA has been working on comprehensive plans to address ESA compliance. That has resulted in the release of a vulnerable species pilot project and an herbicide strategy.

Chinn said the workplan and framework of EPA's approach are "overly burdensome and unworkable" for both pesticide applicators and state enforcement agencies.

She said the project and the strategy were developed and announced with "no consultation or co-regulatory process with the state lead agencies."

As a result, Chinn said the EPA's actions have left state agencies and agriculture organizations "scrambling" to find a "workable path" for regulators and farmers ahead of a final ESA deadline.


Chinn also brought up concerns that the agency would not have enough time to complete a "robust review" and registration in time for dicamba to be available for the 2025 growing season.

A federal court in recent months vacated dicamba's registration for over-the-top uses. The EPA then took emergency action to allow the use of existing dicamba stocks for 2024.

"In response to stakeholders calling for the agency to prioritize this registration," Chinn told the committee, "EPA made the point that its ability to meet statutory deadlines for pesticide actions is limited by its budget. However, just as states are not exempt from meeting their statutory requirements for implementation, enforcement and inspection activities when funding is tight, the EPA should also be held accountable to continue its work."

In addition, Chinn said farmers and states still are waiting for the EPA to make more clarifications about the waters of the U.S. rule after the Sackett v. EPA ruling in the Supreme Court last year.

After the ruling the EPA finalized an amended rule addressing the issues raised in the Sackett case. That amended rule continues to be the subject of ongoing litigation.

"The regulated community, now one-year post-Sackett, is still waiting for the agencies to fully implement the court's decision into their WOTUS rule," Chinn said.

"As a result of ongoing litigation, more than half of the states are currently adhering to the pre-2015 WOTUS regulatory regime, while 23 states have implemented the final conforming rule that went into effect last fall. The agencies' inaction and inability to clearly and transparently define WOTUS is deeply troubling for all stakeholders and holds states in limbo with a patchwork of litigation and regulation."


Rebecca L. Larson, chief scientist and vice president of government affairs for the Western Sugar Cooperative, told the committee there are concerns that recent EPA actions will "eliminate or fundamentally change" the way pesticides can be used.

In particular, Larson said the agency's ESA draft herbicide strategy was "completely unworkable" for especially small farms.

"American farmers are in desperate need of new pesticides, yet EPA is imposing new regulations limiting use of existing pesticides and delaying approval of new products," she said.

The draft strategy overestimated exposure, species sensitivity and critical habitat size, Larson told the committee, while it underestimated the benefit of climate-smart practices and "failed to include appropriate" offset options.

"Much of this could have been avoided if EPA's office of pesticide programs had better farmer engagement prior to the rollout," she said.

"Our industry submitted extensive, constructive comments to EPA. Subsequently, EPA increased its engagement with USDA and producer groups including ours. In their recent, revised proposals, EPA is addressing some unworkable portions of the strategy, like erosion mitigation, but excessive spray buffer distances remain problematic. Without change, significant productive cropland will be lost to overly conservative spray buffers."


Jeff Kippley, vice president of the National Farmers Union and a cattle farmer from Aberdeen, South Dakota, said he'd like to see the EPA find a balance between needed regulation and the business effects of rules.

"Sometimes I worry that the wrong rules could put me out of business, but I also know that having reasonable regulations -- practical rules of the road that everyone must abide by -- is very important," Kippley said.

"Properly designed and enforced regulations help protect family farmers like me from bad actors who use harmful and exploitative practices. Unfortunately, sometimes regulators make compliance too challenging."

EPA should be "commended for its efforts to improve engagement with agricultural communities," Kippley said, but there is "much more EPA could do to improve that partnership."


Gary Cooper, a livestock and poultry farmer from Oakwood, Ohio, and a member of the National Pork Producers Council, said the NPPC's relationship with the agency has been "generally quite constructive."

However, Cooper said he has concerns about the EPA's proposed amendment to the meat and poultry products effluent guidelines, which dictate what livestock facilities can emit in wastewater.

In January 2024, the agency proposed a rule with tighter effluent limitations on nitrogen and phosphorous and placed new E. coli bacteria limitations on facilities.

Cooper told the committee that the NPPC has "significant concerns" about the rule.

"NPPC's sole charge is to protect the livelihood of pork producers in the U.S. and its analysis of the (rule) leads to the conclusion that this rulemaking will significantly disrupt packing capacity and inflict additional severe financial harm on producers," he said.

The industry fears that if the limitations are finalized without changes proposed by the livestock industry, Cooper said, it will lead to "further industry concentration" and the loss of independent producers and small- and medium-sized processors.

"Our concerns began with the unreasonable 60-day period set for public comments on what is a highly complex and technical proposal and the EPA's denial of industry's request for an extension to that comment period," he said.

"This was the case despite the obvious need for more time for the animal agriculture community to properly review the rule and respond constructively and thoughtfully to the questions the EPA posed and topics requested to be considered."

Cooper said the same approach was also "consistent with past EPA" actions on other "complex" rulemakings.

"It merits noting that animal agriculture and the meat processors were not alone in calling for an extension of the comment period," he said.

"Indeed, the EPA accomplished something uncommon. At a public hearing on this rulemaking, both environmentalists and livestock farmers agreed with each other -- that the EPA needed to provide significantly more opportunity for public review and understanding of what was proposed."

Todd Neeley can be reached at todd.neeley@dtn.com

Follow him on social platform X @DTNeeley

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