Serious concerns raised over EPA

Never has the divide between the Environmental Protection Agency and the agriculture industry been as wide as it is in 2011. The relationship appears to be similar to that of a family in conflict.

EPA's seemingly overreaching policies have drawn the attention and ire of many pro-agriculture groups in the past two years. Under the Obama administration, which claims to be the most transparent in history, a lot of shady deals seem to be happening behind the scenes and in back rooms with environmental groups.

For example, in an editorial in late March, Collin Peterson, House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member, explained the conflict between the EPA, activist groups and the agriculture industry. "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 ever 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 on agriculture to comply with the settlement."

Peterson said, "Environmental groups use the courts to twist laws against American farmers and agricultural production."

To put this situation into another context, agriculture is like the dysfunctional family where a rebellious teenager is trying to manipulate the parents. In today's litigious society, teenagers know that the law can sometimes work for them and against their parents. The rebellious teenager can threaten the parents that they will call Child Protective Services and lie about how they have been mistreated. It is manipulative and twisted. The parents will negotiate with the teenager by giving in to the teenager's demands rather than "ruining" the family. 

The activist groups of our society are similar to those teenagers when the teenager wins through manipulation. The EPA is like those parents who will avoid further conflict by any means but end up contributing to a delinquent teenager who will cause more trouble in the future. It appears that the EPA is being manipulated to accept deals outside of the legal system.

Peterson asks of EPA's actions, "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?"

So, what is happening behind the scenes within the EPA, and how is money involved?

Budget negotiations were still going on in March as the government was working to develop a budget for fiscal year 2011. Although the mainstream media reported that Republicans wanted most budgets cut, what usually was not reported was how last year's EPA budget increased a whopping 34 percent. The decrease for this year's EPA had been proposed to decrease from $10.3 billion in 2010 to $10.2 billion this year. That's hardly a significant cut.

Empowered by a stronger budget in 2010, EPA has been taking more aggressive steps at regulating environmental issues.

Allowing the EPA to circumvent lawsuits and unilaterally make policy decisions is not the best way to solve issues. The agriculture industry is tired of taking a back seat to environmental groups who are increasingly being consulted. Just look at Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack's bringing environmental groups to negotiations about genetically modified crops. This is a disturbing trend that appears to be repeating with the EPA as well. To counteract this, everyone in agriculture will need to be actively involved.