Bipartisan Criticism of EPA Marks House Ag Panel Hearing

March 11, 2011 02:30 AM

If EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson had any doubts that lawmakers are not pleased with regulatory actions her agency has taken, they should have been totally erased from her mind with events this week.

The House Ag Committee's hearing Thursday served as a platform for sharp warnings from lawmakers to the EPA chief.

"Farmers and ranchers believe your agency is attacking them," Lucas said as the hearing opened. "They believe little credit is given to them for all the voluntary conservation activities that they have been engaged in for years."

Further, Lucas served notice to Jackson that his panel would be asking three basic questions when it came to new regs coming from the agency:

  • "Is the EPA following the law?
  • "Are you making regulatory decisions based on sound science and data?
  • "And are you conducting adequate cost-benefit analyses?"

And, it's not just Republicans that are irked at EPA's actions. Count House Ag Committee Ranking Minority Member Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) in that camp. "With all due respect to the Administrator and her testimony regarding EPA's commitment to science, transparency and the rule of law, farmers in the countryside don't see that," Peterson told Jackson, noting EPA regs are at the top of the list when it comes to issues raised at constituent meetings with farmers. "They see an out of control agency that doesn't understand agriculture and doesn't want to understand."

But Jackson didn't go quietly, countering lawmakers that her agency is just enforcing the laws. And she used her testimony to dispel what she labeled "myths" about the agency.

"One is the notion that EPA intends to regulate the emissions from cows -- what is commonly referred to as a 'Cow Tax,'" Jackson said. "This myth was started in 2008 by a lobbyist and – quickly de-bunked by the non-partisan, independent group -- it still lives on. The truth is -- EPA is proposing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in a responsible, careful manner and we have even exempted agricultural sources from regulation."

Another mischaracterization, Jackson said, "is the claim that EPA is attempting to expand regulation of dust from farms. We have no plans to do so, but let me be clear, the Clean Air Act passed by Congress mandates that the Agency routinely review the science of various pollutants, including Particulate Matter, which is directly responsible for heart attacks and premature deaths. EPA's independent science panel is currently reviewing that science, and at my direction EPA staff is conducting meetings to engage with and listen to farmers and ranchers well before we even propose any rule."

Apparently, that myth is stronger than Jackson thinks. The dust issue was mentioned recently by Senate Ag Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), so Jackson might need to plead her case on the other side of the Hill, too.

Jackson further said issues like spray drift, mandating numeric nutrient limits on states and the issue of milk and how it is viewed as other examples where the reality is different from the myth..

"The notion that EPA intends to treat spilled milk in the same way as spilled oil... is simply incorrect," Jackson said. "Rather, EPA has proposed, and is on the verge of finalizing an exemption for milk and dairy containers. This exemption needed to be finalized because the law passed by Congress was written broadly enough to cover milk containers. It was our work with the dairy industry that prompted EPA to develop an exemption and make sure the standards of the law are met in a commonsense way. All of EPA's actions have been to exempt these containers. And we expect this to become final very shortly."

Peterson said he keeps hearing that "EPA is only doing what the courts are telling them to do, and I see that in some lawsuits. The problem is that many cases aren't litigated to the point where a court makes a ruling. Instead, there seems to be a pattern of a lawsuit, followed by an EPA settlement, resulting in policy changes to comply with the settlement. This has been going on far too often and many times without adequate public disclosure. We've watched organizations use the courts to twist laws against American farmers and agricultural production. More and more we are seeing important policy decisions that impact agriculture arise not from the legislative process, but from a litigation process where court decisions or secret lawsuit settlement negotiations result in poor policy decisions. If we don't work together to find a solution, producers will likely continue being told how to operate by bureaucrats, lawyers and judges who don't understand agriculture. This is not the way to make agriculture policy."

But the hearing and other actions this week on the Hill -- another House subcommittee approved a plan that would strip EPA of its ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions -- put EPA on notice that the agency is not finding favor among agriculture and many other sectors of the U.S. economy.

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