Bad regulations hurt farmers, foresters

Published 6:38 pm Tuesday, September 16, 2014

By U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne

Imagine this: a thunderstorm rolls through Southwest Alabama and causes a small puddle to develop on an Escambia County farm. Under a rule proposed by the Obama administration’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), this puddle could be subject to regulation under the Clean Water Act. This proposed rule is the epitome of big government.

The proposed rule seeks to redefine “navigable waterways” to include everything from a family pond to small ditches. The Obama administration wants to administer a power grab over our nation’s water all in the name of “environmental protection.” Normally, changing the scope of a federal law would be the responsibility of the Congress, but the Obama administration is trying to bypass Congress and use the regulatory process to push through its radical agenda.

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For decades, water quality regulation has been primarily the responsibility of state governments, with some assistance from the federal government. The relationship has been successful at reducing unnecessary pollution and helping preserve our nation’s natural resources. So why would we now want to change that effective partnership and give more power to the federal government?

This proposed rule would have an especially harmful impact on our farmers and foresters. Here in Alabama, we know how important the forestry and agriculture industries are to our state’s economy. Studies show that farming, forestry, livestock and crop production, and associated industries have an annual economic impact of more than $70 billion, making agriculture the top industry in Alabama. In the First District alone, agriculture employs more than 102,000 people and has an impact of over $12 billion.

For these reasons, I have great concern that the federal government would impose new, burdensome regulations that take our farmers out of the fields and require them to spend time complying with trivial rules.

This isn’t just an issue of importance to farmers. In fact, my office has heard from various County Commissioners from throughout lower Alabama who are concerned about the impact the rule would have on our rural areas. Just last week, Mobile County Commissioner Connie Hudson visited my office to explain how the EPA rule would negatively affect Mobile County.

Last week, the House of Representatives took action. I was proud to support H.R. 5078, the Waters of the United States Regulatory Overreach Protection Act of 2014. This bill would prohibit the EPA from implementing the proposed rule redefining “waters of the United States.” It ends the power grab by the federal government and ensures most of the power remains where it belongs: with the states.

H.R. 5078 passed in bipartisan fashion by a vote of 262 to 152, with 35 Democrats voting in support. This legislation now moves to the Senate where I fear it will only add to the stack of more than 40 pro-jobs bills which are stuck in the Senate.

I also signed on as a co-sponsor of H.R. 5071, the Agricultural Conservation Flexibility Act of 2014. Currently, the EPA is trying to end a number of permitting exceptions that make things easier for farmers and foresters. The exceptions allow for normal activity, such as installing fences and managing weeds, to be free from the costly permitting process. H.R. 5071 would prevent the EPA from ending these important exceptions.

Instead of growing Washington’s economy by adding more red tape and regulation, we need to focus on growing our local economies. I will continue to be a forceful advocate for real solutions that get Washington out of the way and empower more Americans.