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House Ag Committee Serves Up Bipartisan Criticism of EPA

March 11, 2011

On Thursday, March 10, the House Agriculture Committee held a hearing on EPA regulations and agriculture with EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson as the sole witness.   The tone for the hearing was set earlier in the week when House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) told a meeting of commodity group leaders that Administrator Jackson would probably not be to excited about future visits to the Committee after the hearing.  In addition, on March 9, the House Agriculture Committee approved H.R. 872, a bill that would block the EPA from regulating pesticide applications near or on water under the Clean Water Act permit system.  The bill is co-sponsored by 39 of the 46 members of the Committee.

At the hearing, Committee members from both sides of the aisles questioned EPA oversight of agriculture.   Representative Randy Neugebauer (R-TX) went the furthest, with a call for total repeal of the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act.

Democrats also joined in the criticism, with the Committee’s Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-MN) stating that farmers see the EPA as not understanding agriculture and out of control.  Representative Dennis Cardoza (D-CA) said that EPA used the federal courts to expand its jurisdiction in case settlements and criticized the agency’s regulation of pesticides.

Representatives Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and Tim Holden (D-PA) both criticized EPA’s plan for cleaning up nutrient pollution in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.   The House Agriculture Committee’s Subcommittee on Conservation, Energy and Forestry will hold a separate hearing on the Chesapeake Bay on March 16.

Administrator Jackson remained cool under the blast of criticism and focused on the following five specific areas of regulation addressed in her written testimony.

1. Greenhouse Gas emissions from livestock:  Jackson noted that EPA is proposing to reduce GHGs in a responsible manner and has already exempted most agricultural sources from regulation.

2. Spilled milk: EPA regulates spills from oil containment facilities that could pollute waterways.  Milk, as a substance that contains fat from animals, is subject to regulations for control and containment if there is a spill from storage tanks.  In addition, milk as a water pollutant has a very high biological oxygen demand level because of nutrients that stimulate bacterial growth.  Administrator Jackson noted that, nonetheless, EPA is moving to exempt milk from the spill control regulations where the storage tanks meet requirements under sanitation and other food safety laws.

3. Dust from farms:  EPA has no current plans to regulate dust from farms but does have the duty under the Clean Air Act to examine health and public welfare issues related to particulate matter.  EPA is currently reviewing the scientific research on particulate matter.

4.  No pesticide spray drift policy:  EPA does not support a blanket “no spray drift” policy but does not support pesticides wafting into schools and communities.

5. Numeric limits for nutrients in water. 
 EPA does not support federal numeric limits on nutrients and wants the states to address agricultural nutrients through conservation practices and other non-regulatory measures.   Jackson noted that a process underway to establish numeric nutrient limits in Florida was determined by the Bush Administration to be necessary.

“Again, let me be clear: EPA is not working on any federal numeric nutrient limits,” Jackson said.  She added that the agency will release a memo stressing that these limits are best determined by the state.  This statement on numeric water quality standards is troubling if it indicates in any way that EPA may be backpedaling on its authority under the Clean Water Act to implement measures to stem nutrient pollution where states fail to act.

Administrator Jackson also announced at the hearing that the EPA intends to issue a regulation sometime in the next few months that would allow the sale of E15 gasoline for use in cars manufactured between 2001 and 2007.  E15 is gasoline blended with 15 percent ethanol.  E15 gasoline can harm many older automobile engines and other engines, so its sale will require separate gasoline pumps at many locations.  The E15 regulation is expected to increase the use of corn in ethanol, a result opposed by many livestock and poultry organizations, which contend that the price of corn for feed will rise.  Environmental groups are concerned that increased corn production for ethanol and the use of ethanol will have negative impacts on air quality.

Categories: Conservation, Energy & Environment

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