Members of the Southern Crop Production Association never really know what to expect when they enter the office of one of their congressmen or senators on the organization’s annual visit to Washington, D.C.
In most cases these days, the reception is likely to be friendly. Republican members of Congress are the norm, not the exception, in the 15 states represented by its members, and they tend to be more receptive to the SCPA’s message.
But they do encounter members or staff members who support a different position, and they often meet with young, just-out-of-college staff members who have little to no exposure to agriculture or to crop protection chemicals.
“The most important thing you can say when you are visiting with a congressman or their staff is that you live in their district or their state, and you believe that crop protection chemicals are vitally important,” said a CropLife America staff member who met with the group of 45 SCPA and state association members who made the trip to Washington, May 13 and 14..
Showing up and reminding congressmen and their staffs that agriculture is important in their specific districts and their states has been the goal of the SCPA visits since they began on a relatively small scale 15 years ago.
“This is where our strength comes from – that we represent ag, and we represent Southern ag,” said Ed Duskin, the SCPA’s executive vice president, who conducted an issues briefing for the association members before they began making their visits.
“We focus on cotton and peanuts and soybeans to a degree and sugar cane in Louisiana and a few other crops specific to our region,” he said. “We’re not as focused on corn and soybeans, which the Midwest is. That’s fine. We support them, and they support us. We’re working with our delegations, and that’s what we count on.”
The Washington visits started with the SCPA board of directors. Over the years, it was expanded to include other SCPA board members and state associations such as Alabama Agribusiness, the Florida Fertilizer & Agrichemical Association, the Georgia Agribusiness Council, the Louisiana Agricultural Industries Association, the Crop Protection Association of North Carolina, the South Carolina Fertilizer & Agrichemicals Association and the Tennessee Agricultural Production Association.
Besides the state associations and SCPA members, representatives of CropLife America, the American Seed Trade Association and the Ag Retailers Association often accompany the teams as they fan out across Capitol Hill.
Team members often meet with congressional staff, but congressmen and senators do sit in. One of the more memorable sessions was with then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., in the majority leader’s office just off the floor of the Senate.
This year’s visits took on a new sense of urgency when the House passed H.R. 1732, the Regulatory Integrity Protection Act by a 247-155 vote, two days before the long-scheduled Capitol Hill visits. The bill would require EPA and the Corps of Engineers to withdraw the proposed Waters of the U.S. clarification rule.
Ask for votes
Prior to the vote, SCPA members were asked to contact their members of Congress. During the Capitol Hill visits they thanked members who voted for the legislation and discussed the issue with those who didn’t or, as was the case with 35 House members, didn’t vote.
“We were very pleased to see that 24 Democrats, most of them from the South and from ag districts, voted for the bill,” said Duskin. “We are very hopeful the Senate will now pass a similar bill, the Federal Water Quality Protection Act.”
The proposed rule would expand the definition of Waters of the U.S. and alter a range of regulations that implement all Clean Water Act programs, according to the SCPA briefing paper. “Further, EPA’s economic determination that ‘benefits outweigh all costs’ is severely flawed, and that the justification for expanding the jurisdictional reach of CWA is not supported by the science.
“On its face, the new proposed definition appears similar to the existing regulatory definition of WOTUS. But, through inclusion of flood plains, riparian areas, shallow groundwater and ditches, this new regulation would affect all water unless specifically exempted since all water conveyances in floodplains and riparian areas and many ditches in the U.S. could be regulated.”
The proposed rule is now under review by the White House Office of Management and Budget and has not been finalized. H.R. 1732, which was introduced by Reps. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., and Bob Gibbs, R-Ohio, would require EPA and the Corps of Engineers to withdraw the proposed rule and rewrite it.
Other issues discussed by the SCPA and state association members during their Washington visit included:
- Pesticide NPDES General Permits. The House has passed two bills that would eliminate the requirement for permits for the application of pesticides over water, but those bills have stalled in the Senate. EPA and 46 states with Clean Water Act-delegated authority were required to develop and implement Non-point Pollution Discharge Elimination System permits. A new bill, H.R. 897, has been introduced to eliminate the permitting requirement.
- The Endangered Species Act Consultations for Pesticides. Under the Endangered Species Act, EPA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service are required to consult on plans for protecting endangered species. EPA and the services have decidedly different views on this goal and have been unable to develop a workable process for consultation. Members were asked to continue to put pressure on the agencies to develop a system.
- Pollinators and Colony Health. EPA has been considering new rules on pesticide labeling that could withdraw the registrations for the neonicotinoid class of insecticides because of claims they harm bees. Members were urged to use Congress’ oversight authority to require EPA to avoid a “one size fits all” requirement for pesticide labeling.
- GMO Labeling. Members of Congress were urged to support and pass the Safe and Accurate Food Act of 2015, H.R. 1599, to ensure any food labeling in the U.S. is uniform and science-based.
For more on the WOTUS rule, visit https://rules.house.gov/bill/114/hr-1732.