A flood of EPA rules and a pending USDA livestock marketing rule were among key issues House and Senate Ag lawmakers pressed Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack about late last week.
Vilsack told the House and Senate Ag Committees the farm economy remains strong, with record or near record exports, cash receipts and net farm income. At the same time, soaring crop and input costs do raise some concerns and the need for a strong safety net, especially for livestock and dairy producers, in the next farm bill.
But many lawmakers are more immediately concerned with what they say is a flood of burdensome EPA rules on everything from pesticides and dust to milk spills and greenhouse gas emissions. Tim Johnson represents east central Illinois…
“I think I speak for members of this committee, and I certainly speak for the people of the 15th District of Illinois, when I would advocate, very strongly, that you, Mr. Secretary, as part of the Administration, convey to Ms. Jackson, the Administrator, that her actions, as EPA director are causing literal havoc within the agricultural community.”
Others also pleaded with Vilsack to intervene. Vilsack says he already has:
“I know a number of circumstances where I know we have made a difference in the approach the EPA has taken, whether it’s definitions, whether it’s the scope of particular regulations. That’s one of the reasons why I encouraged the Administrator to take some time to visit and actually get on the farm and see what’s going on in various operations. It’s why I encouraged the ongoing conversations she’s having with commodity groups and livestock groups.”
Vilsack was also pressed on USDA’s own pending GIPSA Livestock Marketing rule - which he defends as necessary to bring fairness to the marketplace. However - he did admit a negative cost-benefit analysis could prompt another look at the rule…
“Obviously, if it comes back and there’s no benefit to the rule at all, then obviously there’s a problem with the way we’ve structured the rule. And we would obviously have to rethink the position. I would like to think that there will be consensus on some aspect of agriculture, but what I find on this job is that there’s almost no consensus. I mean, there’s always at least two sides, and sometimes multiple sides depending on where you’re from, how small, medium sized or large your operation is, and what you’re producing. And the challenges to try to make sure we have a fair market. That’s what we’re trying to do -- just trying to establish a fair market.”
On trade, Vilsack says it’s not his call to commit to a specific timetable on the pending Free Trade Agreements. The White House plans to send the Korea deal to the Hill in a few weeks but Vilsack says details must still be worked out on the languishing Panama and Colombia agreements.