Regulatory Burdens Destroying Farming Industry
The country's food growers are getting squeezed dry by inane environmental edicts.
October 13, 2011 - 12:00 am
It’s not just water that’s the issue.
In May of 2010, I reported on a case where the EPA was requiring a burning plan in the Flint Hills region of Kansas. The Flint Hills, which stretch from northeast Kansas south to northeast Oklahoma, are the last remaining tall grass prairie in the world. A unique ecosystem which, ironically, has to burn every year in order to remain. As I wrote then:
In order for the waist-high bluestem grass to grow, each year in April the ranchers must burn the prairie. This helps to eliminate invasive species like the Eastern Red Cedar and other, shorter grasses which now hold sway in the western part of the state. It also burns off the dead grass from the year before.
This yearly burn is not only natural; it is required in order to maintain the highly fragile ecosystem of the tall-grass prairie. Only 4 percent of it remains these days, nearly 80 percent of that in Kansas.
This burning is important because ranchers from all over Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas send their cattle to roam free in the hills for several months before rounding them up to take to feed lots for finishing — some of the best-tasting beef in the world is fed by that tall grass.
EPA decided to require the burn plan because the smoke from the fires can stretch as far as Tennessee and affect air quality in cities downwind. If Kansas couldn’t come up with a plan, EPA would stop the burns — and destroy an ecosystem.
According to Mike Beam, a vice president of the Kansas Livestock Association (KLA), they along with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment came up with a mostly voluntary plan which so far has kept the burns from being proscribed. However, in Wichita and Kansas City this year there was a problem with air quality after the burns, and the KLA is still waiting to hear if the request for an air quality waiver has been granted. If it’s not, then the ranchers may find themselves with a problem if Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS), who introduced similar legislation the last couple of years, can’t get a bill passed to exempt the Flint Hills from the Clean Air Act.
“It just keeps coming from every direction,” said Deardorff grimly. “A lot of it, quite frankly, happens when people show up and say you’re not in compliance, or you go to buy a new piece of machinery and you find out that you have five new steps to do in order to buy that equipment.”
The cost of regulatory uncertainty is staggering. Take 2009, by no means unique in the modern history of American agriculture. California was parched by a “regulatory drought,” during which government stole water from farmers and diverted it to protect habitat for the three-inch-long Delta smelt. The casualties of the 2009 drought: 500,000 acres of working farmland lost, up to $2.2 billion in revenue lost, and at least 40,000 jobs lost in the San Joaquin Valley alone, according to April 2011 House Natural Resources Committee testimony.
The San Joaquin Valley is some of the most productive farmland in the world. So why would the federal government knowingly cause a job-killing “regulatory drought”? According to AJC, the reason is simple:
Special interest lawsuits that shatter the accepted regulatory process and push federal regulations beyond the realm of common sense. Recently, environmental zealots have struck “sue-and-settle” agreements with the Obama administration, prompting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to issue a unilateral “biological opinion” that placed the full power of the federal government behind the three-inch-long smelt, leaving California farm workers and their families high and dry.
“Basically, the environmental community has sued our district claiming that they are in violation of their permitting because they have not installed certain additional measures to help protect a fish species,” Deardorff said.
We’ve seen that in Kansas as well, where an unholy alliance between environmental groups and ranchers has stopped power transmission lines — ironically enough, from wind farms — in the Flint Hills to cities out of state because the lines might affect the breeding habits of the lesser prairie chicken.
This regulatory bomb is blowing up industry after industry:
Agriculture is already a fragile industry. In 2009, America’s median farm income barely cracked $50,000. But the explosion of federal regulations under President Obama is making survival that much harder: 660,900 small businesses — from family farms to auto repair shops — closed in 2009. That year, the Obama administration proposed 2,044 new regulations. In 2010, proposed federal regulations jumped to 2,439.
As AJC points out, the growing Obama regulatory burden hits all businesses large and small, but hits small businesses like Deardorff Family Farms the hardest:
Average annual small business compliance costs have soared to more than $10,500 per employee. These job creators deserve common-sense regulatory relief, so that they can invest their hard-earned money and time into putting America back to work