Ag policy: Time to clean up the EPA
Farmers and ranchers are not happy with the Environmental Protection Agency. They see an agency that does not understand agriculture and imposes burdensome and confusing regulations. EPA may be the federal agency charged with enforcing the Clear Air and Clean Water acts but when it comes to agriculture, their policies are unclear and the process murky at best.
Responding to questions about the reason and need for some of their farm-related regulations, EPA says they are only doing what the courts tell them to do. The fact is that environmental activist groups often sue the EPA but the cases don't even reach the point of a judge's decision. Instead, there seems to be a pattern of an activist lawsuit, followed by an EPA settlement, resulting in new EPA regulations to comply with the settlement.
Environmental groups use the courts to twist laws against American farmers and agricultural production. This is resulting in policy decisions being made by activists, bureaucrats and lawyers without consideration of what's best for American agriculture. This pattern has been going on far too often and many times without adequate transparency.
This is no way to make policy.
This so-called "sue and settle" strategy keeps the process in the dark and often ignores producers until after the fact. Farmers and ranchers working and living on the land have a right to a seat at the table when policy decisions are made especially when the settlements frequently contain provisions critical to agriculture and rural communities.
EPA needs to reclaim a commitment to transparency and accountability. The process is seriously flawed and it is leading to damaging results out in the countryside. I challenged EPA's administrator, Lisa Jackson, at a recent hearing to answer some important questions about what's happening.
For instance, how does EPA decide what lawsuits they will settle and who will participate in settlement negotiations? How much taxpayer money is used to pay activists who sue the government? How frequently do these agreements with activist groups lead to new regulations? How closely does EPA follow the language in settlement agreements when proposing new rules? Does EPA consider the impact on farmers and ranchers when negotiating settlement agreements? And, how much does public comment factor into finalizing rules based on settlement agreements?
EPA's mission is to ensure that we have a clean environment but I wonder if their backdoor manner of making regulations is simply muddying the waters. I hope to get some answers.
Collin Peterson, DFL-7th District, is ranking minority member of the U.S. House Agriculture Committee.