While budget deficit reduction is still a high priority in Washington, 2011 could emerge as the "year of the regulation." Key members of the Republican-controlled House have made it clear they want to examine the regulatory actions of government agencies, particularly the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
House Ag Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) says his panel wants to make sure EPA can’t create regulations that would "cripple Amer-ican agriculture and stifle economic growth in rural communities."
Not surprisingly, many lawmakers are focusing on EPA’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions regulations. "We are not going to let the administration regulate what they’ve been unable to legislate," says Fred Upton (R-Mich.), head of the Energy and Commerce Committee.
The panel that controls the purse strings—the Appropriations Committee—is also intently focused on EPA regulations. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies, plans to "slow down" EPA on the regulatory front.
"EPA is the scariest agency in the federal government, an agency run amok. Its bloated budget has allowed it to drastically expand its regulatory authority in a way that is hurting our economy and pushing an unwelcome government further into the lives of Idahoans," Simpson says.
One of the reasons the Appropriations Committee is focusing so much on EPA regulations is because the committee decides how government dollars are spent. Lawmakers have used the appropriations process to slow or hold off government actions they disagree with. For example, implementation of country-of-origin labeling for meat and meat products was delayed for years by lawmakers denying USDA the ability to spend money to implement it. Likewise, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) successfully used the appropriations process to deny USDA funds for inspecting poultry imports from China. The ban was removed when China challenged the provision in the World Trade Organization.
Bipartisan concerns. There is a bipartisan feel to the groundswell on the regulatory issue. One of the new Democratic lawmakers, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), made a name for himself during his 2010 election campaign by firing a gun at a copy of the GHG bill and declaring that the bill was "dead." At least 10 Democratic senators up for re-election in 2012 hail from states where some
observers believe a vote favoring GHG regulation could prove costly in their bid for another term.
The American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) has also waded into the regulatory thicket. AFBF President Bob Stallman announced at the group’s annual meeting in January that a legal challenge would be filed on EPA’s new total maximum daily loads regulation in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. "This legal effort, led by AFBF, is essential to preserving the power of the states—not EPA—to decide whether and how to regulate farming practices," Stallman said.
Even President Barack Obama has ordered a review of regulations, focusing on those that are "placing unreasonable burdens on business—burdens that have stifled innovation and have had a chilling effect on growth and jobs."
In an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal, Obama said that the executive order he signed requires that "federal agencies ensure that regulations protect our safety, health and environment while promoting economic growth. It orders a government-wide review of the rules already on the books to remove outdated regulations that stifle job creation and make our economy less competitive. It’s a review that will help bring order to regulations that have become a patchwork of overlapping rules, the result of tinkering by administrations and legislators of both parties and the influence of special interests in Washington over decades."
In the piece, Obama brought attention to the regulatory disconnect the effort will target. He noted that while the Food and Drug Administration approved saccharine in soft drinks, EPA still considered it a hazardous material. EPA has now "wisely" done away with that regulation, he said.
Perhaps Stallman sums it up best: "Our message to Congress is clear: It is time to stop EPA."
SURE sign-up. USDA has announced that sign-up under the Supplemental Revenue Assistance Payments program (SURE) is now open for farmers with eligible 2009 crop losses. Sign-up must be completed by July 29, 2011, for those who meet the following criteria: at least a 10% production loss on a crop of economic significance; having a policy or plan of insurance under the Federal Crop Insurance Act or Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program for all economically significant crops; and being physically located in a county or contiguous to a county that was declared a primary natural disaster area by the Secretary of Agriculture under a Secretarial Disaster Designation. Without that designation, farmers may be eligible if production on the farm is less than 50% of normal production due to a natural disaster.
Crop insurance refunds. The Risk Management Agency (RMA) is proposing a Good Performance Refund plan for those participating in the crop insurance program. RMA figures the plan would pump around $75 million into the rural economy and estimates the average refund would be about $1,000 per producer. The program has a proposed maximum limit of $25,000, with a minimum payment of $25.
Nutrition labels on meat. USDA said it will move ahead with a plan to put more nutritional information in the hands of consumers, this time on various cuts of meat. The nutrition facts panel on packaging will include the number of calories and grams of total fat and saturated fat.