Federal regulatory overreach -- particularly the EPA’s proposed Waters of the U.S. rule -- was the theme of the day during a September 15 press conference of the Republican Agriculture Commissioners Committee (RACC).
It’s an election year, of course, and from the outset Louisiana Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain didn’t shy away from the committee’s desire to see more members of his party elected or appointed. “We focus on feeding America and the world and all the different policies that affect that. The RACC is the largest caucus of Republican state ag commissioners in the country. Our mission is to elect Republicans to the office of state ag commissioner… Eleven of the twelve Republican elected ag commissioners are members along with 17 of the appointed commissioners.”
Then it was on to pointing out the attempted power grab by several federal agencies.
“Under the U.S. Constitution, the federal government is allowed to step into our states when there is a just and necessary reason,” said Strain. “However, in general, the preeminence for dealing with most issues is remanded to the states. When you start looking at some of the issues we’ll talk about today, if there are undue burdens by the federal government we won’t be able to keep on pace, on track, on target and remain profitable for America.
“I’m going to give you a ‘for instance.’ When (Tom Vilsack, head of the USDA) was asked the most important component of the farm bill, he said ‘that’s very, very simple: conservation. Without proper conservation, we lose the ability of the land to produce, lose the farms, lose national security, lose food security.’
“We believe that’s best (done) from the ground up. Many of the laws in Congress – especially the Clean Water Act and others – specifically state that the primary jurisdiction is within the states themselves.”
Picking up the baton, Doug Goehring, who oversees North Dakota’s agriculture sector, said, “The reality is we’re being regulated to death. We have over 4,500 regulations that have come through different agencies at the federal level, such as the Department of Interior, the Department of Education, EPA, FDA, USDA. You have to wonder what they’re being designed for.”
As with many farm-state officials, Goehring held up Waters of the U.S. as particularly egregious. In the rule, “You see words like ‘significant nexus’ and ‘connectivity.’ We’re suddenly told (the proposed rule language) ‘is to clarify.’ The reality is … they will regulate and have oversight of every drop of water aboveground. But also belowground because they talk about subsurface water.”
If approved, Goehring claimed the rule would also “open us up to activist groups that can come along and define in their own terms and words what they believe Waters of the U.S. should be regulated, implemented.”
Clean Water Act fallout
Waters of the U.S. is one of the “most significant overreaches of the federal government in recent history,” said Strain. “In 1972, when the Clean Water Act was formulated it was under the jurisdiction of navigable bodies of water of the U.S. -- those bodies with multi-state jurisdiction. Onto that were added wetlands adjacent to those navigable bodies of water.
If you look at Waters of the U.S. and the interpretive rule that accompanies it, that federal authority “is being extended to tributaries and riparian areas that may, or do, drain at some point into a tributary or riparian area. Any body of water that is separated by a man-made entity from a body of water of the U.S. is now considered under the jurisdiction of the EPA.
“Bottom line, if you look at the state of Louisiana, that’s pretty much everything, including the concrete on the top of the capital.”
Furthermore, “the Clean Water Act specifically says that the federal government is to work hand-in-hand with state governments in dealing with issues of clean water.”
The National Association of the States’ Department of Agriculture has urged the EPA and Corps of Engineers to withdraw the proposed rule.
As it contains too many flaws to be fixed, the proposed rule must be withdrawn, said Iowa commissioner Bill Northey. “There is a real frustration in the countryside that when questions or concerns were raised, EPA dismissed those concerns.”
Food Safety Modernization Act
Hugh Weathers, South Carolina commissioner, is unhappy with the Food Safety Modernization Act, the first major revision of food safety regulations in 70 years. “As dysfunctional as Congress has become, some of our regulatory arms seem to have been empowered. That’s the case with the act. We’re in the process of working towards seven rules they’ve proposed.”
Weathers reported that at a recent meeting of the commissioners, Mike Taylor, FDA deputy secretary, said “there would be a new spirit of cooperation and not just enforcement on behalf of FDA.” Weathers was unconvinced. “Well, let me say that no one from FDA came to say, ‘We’ve had a revelation, an epiphany and all of the sudden we’ll be more cooperative.’”
Instead the FDA softening comes after demands from state departments of agriculture. “As diversified as our 50 states are … we know farmers across the country must have consistency in regulations. It’s the same principal as with GMO labeling. There must be consistency.
“We have a saying in South Carolina: ‘in order to be heard you must be believed.’ … It is the state departments of agriculture who are believed because we’re there with (the farmers). We believe in education first, then regulation. That’s just the opposite of what seems to come out of Washington.”
In closing, Strain gave federal regulators another backhand. “We believe we’re best served with regulations in particular states that reflect the different needs, terrains and opportunities.”