by Todd Neeley, DTN Staff Reporter
OMAHA (DTN) -- The future of environmental regulation and U.S. agriculture could hang in the balance with the upcoming presidential election.
If President Barack Obama wins re-election Nov. 6 it is expected EPA will pick up where it left off in terms of pushing states to clean up watersheds and to expand the number of waters regulated by the Clean Water Act through a guidance document waiting in the wings.
Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has provided few details about EPA's role if he is elected, other than to say regulations are hurting the economy, that many key environmental laws are in need of reform and that he would eliminate Obama-era regulations.
Don Parrish, senior director of regulatory relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation, said because there's no way to know who a Romney administration would hire for key staff positions, it's difficult to say how or if EPA would change.
"The biggest issue is federalism and how the federal government works with states and how this plays out with waters of the U.S.," he said. "Nutrients are going to be a huge issue regardless of who is president."
A Senate minority report, "Numerous Obama-EPA Rules Placed on Hold until after the Election Spell Doom for Jobs and Economic Growth", http://tinyurl.com/…, said the Obama administration is waiting until 2013 to continue work on EPA regulations.
When contacted by DTN, an EPA spokesperson declined comment and would not provide an official list of pending EPA regulations. DTN found 28 pending EPA rules, according to www.reginfo.gov, including a number of rules that could affect agriculture.
Ashley McDonald, deputy environmental counsel for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, said the election will have environmental consequences for agriculture.
"Cattle producers continue to feel the effects of an over-zealous EPA under the current administration," McDonald said.
"Specifically, cattlemen and women face water quality regulations in the Chesapeake Bay, Florida and across the United States that lack a basis in science or common sense. Producers also continue to have dust and greenhouse gas regulations hanging over their head like a guillotine, ready to fall whenever Administrator Lisa Jackson decides to let go of the rope.
"Our hope is that whoever resides in the White House the next four years will work with cattle producers so that they can continue to be the foremost stewards of our nation's natural resources."
CLEAN WATER ACT
EPA has yet to finalize a Clean Water Act guidance document that by EPA's own estimates would bring into jurisdiction up to 17% of current non-jurisdictional CWA waters.
EPA's approval of Florida's total maximum daily load, or TMDL, to reduce nutrients runoff is expected to come next year, according to the Senate report. The state-level plan has yet to be approved by EPA. TMDLs require stepped-up conservation measures on farms as a tool to reduce runoff.
If Romney wins the election, Parrish said he expects EPA to allow states to take the lead in regulating water quality.
Regardless of who wins the election, he said farmers will continue to face pressure to reduce nutrients runoff. It becomes more difficult for producers, Parrish said, if farmers are doing everything they can technologically to cut nutrients.
"Maybe we can go about it with more cover crops," he said.
"For the most part, runoff is related to weather. This year with the drought, nutrients runoff was less. You have to have a productive, fertile environment to produce crops, but you have to reduce nutrients."
The AFBF brought legal action against EPA in the past two years, challenging a TMDL for the Chesapeake Bay. AFBF has argued that states should be in charge of regulating water.
Parrish said a second Obama administration likely will more closely consider including water on prior-converted cropland as waters of the U.S. in the Clean Water Act. That could expand the law's reach to some 56 million additional acres.
Farmers are concerned that EPA will include in the definition of waters of the U.S. those land areas that have standing water only when it rains, he said.
In the coming years, Parrish said, EPA plans to create a science advisory board to study water connectivity.
"They're going to zero in on larger users of the landscape," he said. "I expect some significant movement in that area."
When it comes to livestock operators, Parrish said he expects EPA to require more Clean Air Act permits for those operations that emit feathers and dust from ventilation systems.
In a questionnaire to both presidential candidates, the AFBF asked the candidates about their approach to water regulations, in particular, "Do you support reaffirming the primary role of states in regulating both non-navigable waters and non-point source runoff?"
The president touted his efforts to expand conservation programs. Romney said in his response that current EPA regulations should be updated.
Romney's record on clean water issues in Massachusetts is thin, in part because the state's clean water regulations are left to EPA with the state serving a minor role.
According to a May 2012 news release from the non-governmental organization the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, Romney "gave industrial wastewater dischargers free rein to discharge chemicals into municipal treatment systems unable to filter them out of the commonwealth's waters."
The Romney administration agreed to new rules to require dischargers to report toxics to the state and sewage treatment plants, according to PEER.
During Romney's tenure, just 9% of state rivers and streams were known to be "safe for all their intended uses, such as fishing and swimming, compared with a national average of nearly 60%," the group said.
As governor of Massachusetts, Romney set limits on both greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants and he enforced limits on mercury and other pollutants. He is on record opposing EPA's regulation of GHG emissions for vehicles and stationary sources, according to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions.
A Romney administration would try to undo many of the Obama-era EPA regulations, according to information from Romney's website, http://www.mittromney.com/…,
EPA's record of reaching settlement agreements with environmental groups and others in court has raised concerns among federal lawmakers and farm interest groups.
According to the Institute for Energy Research, Romney would prohibit federal agencies from using so-called sue-and-settle techniques instead of the rulemaking process. That would include requiring the full disclosure of federal funds spent to reimburse groups as a result of lawsuits filed against the federal government.
OTHER AG CONCERNS
Farm groups have opposed the potential tightening of particulate matter requirements in the Clean Air Act that could require more farmers to take steps to reduce dust.
Though EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said the agency does not and did not intend to regulate so-called farm dust through the Clean Air Act, the agency can tighten PM regulations to require more farmers to take action to reduce farm dust.
Despite claims by EPA officials and others that the agency doesn't regulate farm dust, some farmers in Arizona and California are required to reduce dust in response to persistently high PM readings.
EPA also is expected to implement the boiler MACT rule that sets emissions standards on budding biomass-to-energy industry. Industry representatives have said the rule would make it difficult to open new agriculture markets for biomass.
The president instructed EPA to delay the spill prevention control and countermeasure that could require farmers and ranchers to develop and implement what could be costly oil and gasoline spill prevention plans on the farm.
The original deadline for the rule was set for November 2011, but was delayed as a result of Congressional pressure. EPA reset the deadline of May 10, 2013.
The Senate minority report said EPA would move forward with regulating greenhouse gases. That includes bringing back a so-called "cow tax" in a second Obama term. Yet, the suggestion of a "cow tax" actually was language drafted by USDA during the Bush administration, speculating on what could occur if there was no tailoring rule by EPA limiting regulations to the largest emitters.
The House and Senate approved an amendment to an appropriations bill to fund EPA in 2010 to block agency efforts to require Clean Air Act permits for greenhouse gases from livestock.
"EPA itself estimates that in its best-case scenario there will be over 37,000 farms and ranches subject to greenhouse gas permits at an average cost of $23,000 per permit annually, affecting over 90% of the livestock production in the United States," the Senate minority report said.
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Posted with DTN Permission by Haylie Shipp