Senate Ag Committee Chair Lincoln blasts EPA for 'overreaching'

By Jon H. Harsch

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

Washington, Sept. 23 - Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) interrupted campaigning in her tough Senate race to confront EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson in a hearing Thursday “to Examine the Impact of EPA Regulation on Agriculture.”

Lincoln opened the hearing by calling farmers, ranchers and foresters are “the best stewards of our land . . . They have provided us with the safest, most abundant, and most affordable food and fiber supply for generations.” She said the secret of agriculture's success has been “a collaborative effort between farmers, ranchers and those who understand production agriculture in Congress.” The Arkansas farmer's daughter who has become the Senate Agriculture Committee's first woman Chair concluded that “it is certainly my judgment that the carrot has time and again proved mightier than the stick when it comes to advancing important conservation and environmental objectives on farm, ranch and forest lands.”

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Lincoln then zeroed in on Jackson, seated at the far end of the long committee table and told the EPA head that:

Unfortunately, farmers and ranchers in rural Arkansas and all over our nation are increasingly frustrated and bewildered by vague, overreaching and unnecessarily burdensome EPA regulation. Farmers face so many unknowns - the last thing they need is regulatory uncertainty. Producers are subject to the whims of the commodity markets and the weather, to name a few. A sudden shift in price, or a wet summer, can devastate a farmer and drive him out of business. In the face of these stark realities, our farmers, ranchers and foresters need clear, straightforward and predictable rules to live by that are not burdensome, duplicative, costly, unnecessary, or, in some cases just plain bizarre.”

Charging that farmers, ranchers, and foresters are threatened with “at least a dozen new regulatory requirements,” Lincoln said that these costly regulations threaten to undermine U.S. competitiveness and are based on “dubious rationales.” She called on Jackson to switch to a cooperative approach “instead of using the command and control, top-down approach that this administration has relied on thus far.”

Lincoln listed specific threats such as EPA's “unenforceable”spray drift proposals, settling Clean Water Act lawsuits without farmer participation, requiring emissions controls for biomass energy facilities, requiring Clean Water Act permit for pesticide applications, and new dust regulations which don't recognize that “Dust is a fact of life in rural and agricultural areas.”

Lincoln insisted that “I flat out disagree with EPA's regulation of greenhouse gases . . . as I have said time and again, it should be Congress, not unelected bureaucrats who should be writing the laws to regulate greenhouse gases.” She said “Overreaching, burdensome regulations from the EPA create huge uncertainties for our farmers and ranchers and put our nation's food supply at risk.”

In her own brief statement, Jackson acknowledged agriculture's important role in the U.S. economy and said she recognizes that farmers operate on thin margins, with an inability to pass along costs. But she said that in terms of the environmental mandates she is required by law to implement, “while much has been accomplished, much remains to be done.” She also insisted that she's convinced “that a farm economy and a healthy environment can go hand in hand.”

Ranking Member Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), however, warned that “EPA's plans will hinder growth in agriculture and rural America.” He said that “No one disputes the need or desire for clean air and water, bountiful habitat and healthy landscapes.” But he warned that with EPA's new regulatory proposals, “at some point, which I believe we are getting dangerously close to, regulatory burdens on farmers and ranchers will hinder rather than help them become better stewards of the land and more bountiful producers of food, fiber and fuel.”

Pressed by senators, Jackson agreed that she is committed to working closely with the Senate and House Agriculture Committees and that if some of the current court deadlines for new environmental measures turn out to be unrealistic, she will consider seeking extensions.

In the case of one congressional deadline which EPA failed to meet last November - ruling on permitting an “E15” 15% ethanol blend - Jackson said EPA expects to get the Energy Department's final report on teardown results for 2007 and newer vehicles by the end of this month. If so, she said, EPA would expect to issue its ruling on E15 for 2007 and newer vehicles by mid October.

For Stewart Doan's audio report on the Senate hearing, EPA's Jackson tells Senate Ag her agency isn't targeting agriculture, go to:

To read more from the Senate Agriculture Committee hearing, go to:

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