Thursday, February 11, 2016

Committee on Agriculture Hearing: To consider the impacts of the Environmental Protection Agency’s actions on the rural economy

Opening Statement: Chairman K. Michael Conaway Committee on Agriculture Hearing: To consider the impacts of the Environmental Protection Agency’s actions on the rural economy Remarks as prepared: Good morning. I thank Administrator McCarthy for being here today. There is a reason a top issue for nearly every Member of the Agriculture Committee is related to the regulatory agenda of the Environmental Protection Agency. Many members of this committee believe that over the years, EPA has pursued an agenda seemingly absent any recognition of the consequences for rural America and production agriculture. EPA is creating regulations and policies that are burdensome, overreaching, and that negatively affect jobs and the rural economy. Perhaps the most poignant example is EPA’s recent power grab with the “Waters of the United States” rule. Or, as EPA likes to call it – The Clean Water Rule. I’ll be frank – this rule is not about clean water. Everyone wants and deserves clean water. This is not about safe drinking water in Flint, Michigan, which some have purposefully confused with the WOTUS overreach. Rebranding government overreach as part of an illicit social media campaign does not change the content of the rule. This rule is simply the result of EPA ignoring stakeholders, including states, other federal agencies, and the American people, in order to egregiously and vastly expand its jurisdiction. This rule is already tied up in the court system, and I would imagine it will be there for many years. This is only one of many instances where the agency has blatantly ignored Congressional intent. Instead of simply administering the law, EPA challenges Congress to pass legislation that gives the agency more authority; and if Congress doesn’t act, EPA will legislate via regulation, directive, memorandum, or in some cases by intimidation. This regulate first, ask questions later approach is starting to backfire on the EPA. Just this week, the Supreme Court intervened in another overreaching regulatory priority of the Obama Administration by staying the implementation of the so called Clean Power Plan. I am glad that the courts have intervened However, it should never have come to this. Just because something sounds good in theory in Washington, D.C., does not mean it will work or have a beneficial impact for our constituents. More times than not, those great theories do nothing but increase the cost of doing business. Farmers, ranchers and foresters all take great pride in their stewardship of the land. They are the original conservationists. When a family’s livelihood depends on caring for natural resources, there is an undeniable economic incentive to adopt practices that enhance long-term viability. While it may be popular among some to blame farmers and ranchers for any and every environmental concern that crops up, I think that you can acknowledge that nobody cares more for the environment than those who derive their livelihood from it. Rural America’s economy is dependent on agriculture. Today committee members will talk about examples in which EPA’s regulatory approach may unjustifiably increase the cost of doing business for America’s farmers and ranchers. These include the recent WOTUS rule; proposed changes to the ozone standard, the recently modified standards for farm workers, and many others. Regardless of the degree to which some may believe any individual government regulation might be justifiable, all regulations must be developed in a manner that is based on science and mindful of the economic consequences. For instance, farmers face increasing pressures from pests and disease. If existing pesticide uses were to be prohibited, the increase in crop losses will undoubtedly impact food prices and food security. If EPA fails to adequately calculate and/or consider the economic consequences of these actions, the consequences could be devastating. Federal laws dictate USDA to serve as an important advisor to EPA in the regulation of pesticides. Historically, USDA’s expertise and advice has been evident in the actions EPA has taken to evaluate pesticides and their uses. USDA’s perspective and knowledge of production agriculture is critical since we know that crop protection products can increase farm yields as much as 40 percent to even 70 percent depending on the crop. It concerns me that to hear the farm community express increasingly urgent concerns about the lack of seriousness with which EPA takes and incorporates USDA expertise, advice and opinions, especially during formal interagency review. I anticipate that nearly every Member will wish to engage you in a discussion of specific areas of concern. It is my hope that this hearing will serve to open the door to a more cooperative working relationship with EPA generally. I want to end this opening statement with this one last observation. Farmers and ranchers believe the EPA is attacking them. They believe little credit is given to them for all the voluntary conservation activities that they have been engaged in for years. This Committee is going to be an advocate for those farmers. I thank you again for being here and look forward to a good discussion.

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