The House Agriculture Committee farm bill that passed out of committee early yesterday morning includes a number of anti-regulatory riders.
As we previously reported, the House mark included three riders before Committee markup began. The mark includes a provision that significantly weakens USDA’s ability to regulate the use of genetically engineered (GE) organisms. The provision would greatly narrow the scope of the environmental assessment for GE crop approvals and would limit the amount of time that USDA has to review GE crop applications. It would also authorize USDA to do a study to look into exempting certain GE crops from the (weakened) regulatory review process (and from regulation) and to make recommendations for a national low-GE presence in supply chain policy.
In addition to the GE rider, the mark reverses a court decision re-affirming Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) authority to regulate pesticide pollution under the Clean Water Act. It also stops EPA from modifying pesticide registrations based on the opinions of the National Marine Fisheries Services or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. There were no amendments during Committee markup to undo any of the three provisions.
During Committee markup, Representative Steve King (R-IA) successfully offered an amendment to prohibit states from denying the trade of an agricultural product from another state based on its mean of production. The amendment comes largely in reaction to a new California law that sets minimum size standards for cages for hens that produce eggs that are sold in the state. It remains unclear whether or not this issue even falls under the jurisdiction of the Agriculture Committee. Nonetheless, the language remains in the bill despite concerns expressed by Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) and Representatives Kurt Schrader (D-OR), Dennis Cardoza (D-CA), and others.
As noted in our earlier post, Representatives Mike Conaway (R-TX) and Jim Costa (D-CA) successfully offered an anti-farmer, anti-rancher amendment to strike the livestock and poultry fair competition and contract reform provisions included in the 2008 Farm Bill. The language goes as far as to repeal the contract reform regulations that USDA finalized and Congress agreed to last year. While the language that Congress settled upon during the FY 2012 appropriations process is far from ideal, it is important to remember that it was a culmination of careful negotiations between the Senate and House. In the final hours of debate early on Thursday morning, Representatives Conaway and Costa acted as if this negotiation had never occurred. It is our sincere hope that, as the bill moves to the floor or to conference with the Senate, members recall these earlier negotiations and at the very least reverse the Conaway-Costa language that forces USDA to rescind its contract fairness final rule.
Representative Tim Huelskamp (R-KS) offered two additional amendments aimed at restricting the regulatory capacity of EPA. The first would prohibit EPA from regulating dust from activities common in rural areas or from natural sources. The second would stop EPA from implementing a Clean Water Act (CWA) guidance that applies CWA protections to waters of the United States rather than just navigable waters. Representative Huelskamp withdrew both amendments shortly after offering them. However, recent comments suggest that he intends to offer them when the bill heads to the House floor.