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Our Views

Our Views Columns

Date: 12/6/2012

Title: Overreaching Regulations Continue to be a Burden on Cattlemen

By Ashley McDonald, NCBA Deputy Environmental Counsel

If you haven’t heard by now, the fiscal cliff is looming. Congress and the White House remain locked in tough negotiations over the “cliff” which is a set of tax hikes and spending cuts that will go into effect in January if Washington doesn't get its act together. Inaction by the government will undoubtedly affect farmers and ranchers. However, another looming issue that may not be receiving as much attention during this critical time in our government is the “environmental cliff,” the overreaching environmental regulations which continue to plague cattle producers. The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) continues to lead the charge in defending cattlemen and women from an extreme environmental agenda which not only hurts producers, but economy as a whole. 

The particulate matter (PM) standard, commonly known as the dust standard, remains one of the most important environmental issues facing cattle producers. Every five years, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is required to review scientific studies associated with criteria pollutants regulated under the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS), many times setting the levels without regard to the costs of implementing such a stricter standard. PM, or dust, is one of these criteria pollutants. Agricultural operations in arid parts of the country can have a difficult time attaining compliance with the dust standard at its current level. Mother Nature in that part of the country makes compliance virtually impossible when you consider the amount of naturally occurring windblown dust. If you add to that the dust kicked up by cattle moving around in feedlots, you end up in what’s called a “nonattainment” area, meaning farmers and ranchers often have to implement costly practices in order to mitigate dust.

In April 2011 EPA staff recommended to Administrator Jackson that she should double the stringency of the current dust standard. After NCBA commissioned a study to find out what kind of impact that kind of change would cause across cattle country, it was apparent the entire Midwest, West and Southwest would be in nonattainment, or at the brink of it; 15 miles per hour speed limits on dirt roads, paving dirt and gravel roads, wind breaks along country roads and a prohibition on harvesting or tilling during the day could now become real regulatory requirements in our country’s breadbasket. NCBA went on the defensive, inciting what became a rural America political backlash, the likes of which EPA has never seen. In the end, Administrator Jackson was forced to say she would not propose to lower the standard. Holding true to her promise, in June of this year EPA proposed retaining the current dust standard. NCBA, our state affiliates and members submitted comments encouraging EPA to make the proposal final. EPA is scheduled to publish the final standard by Dec. 14. 

The Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) rule is back in the environmental news circuit. EPA announced in October another round of comments on the Clean Water Act (CWA) regulation for CAFOs. The request for comments is in response to requirements of the Regulatory Flexibility Act, which requires that a review of the impacts of a regulation that’s been certified to have a substantial effect on small businesses be conducted by the issuing agency within ten years of the regulation’s publication. The agency may use the review to determine whether the regulation should be continued without change, or should be amended or rescinded. It’s estimated that 40 percent of all CAFO facilities fall under the small entity provision, according to EPA.  Even though in its announcement the agency said that it is looking for comments on “whether there is a ‘continued need’ for regulations on CAFOs,” and “the extent to which the rule overlaps, duplicates, or conflicts with other federal, state, or local government regulations,” it is unlikely that EPA will ease the burden of the CAFO rule on farmers and ranchers. Originally set to close on Dec. 31, the comment period is likely to be extended until Mar. 1, 2013. NCBA will submit comments to EPA on behalf of the cattle industry.

In this issue of Beltway Beef we cover the topic of Florida’s battle with EPA on the state’s Numeric Nutrient Criteria (NNC). Even though the final ruling on the state-created standards is a win for the agriculture industry in Florida there is still a long way to go. Other states are being pressured by EPA to develop numeric criteria, and environmental extremist groups are rushing to sue over provisions they say significantly deters efforts to regulate discharges. These groups continue to tie things up in the court system, wasting valuable time and financial resources, and all too often EPA sides with their agenda, creating more problems for cattle producers. We hope that the decision by the agency to uphold Florida’s own NNC standards sets a precedent for other states that are currently fighting to maintain their position as an equal partner in implementation of the CWA. Cattlemen and women should encourage their state officials to stand up for their own rights under the CWA and not to let EPA commandeer the entire system.

Though EPA continues to attempt to expand its regulatory authority beyond what Congress intended and implement overreaching, nonsensical rules, NCBA continues to be a strong opposing force to these regulations in Washington and across the country. From dust regulation, numeric nutrient criteria and greenhouse gas regulations, to protection from intrusive government fly-overs, NCBA will work hard during the next year to advance our environmental issues and prevent regulatory overreach from stifling productivity and growth in the cattle industry.