Feb 03, 2017 / Agriculture

McMorris Rodgers, Newhouse, Costa Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Provide Regulatory Certainty for Farms

WASHINGTON, D.C. (February 3rd, 2017)– Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), Dan Newhouse (R-WA), and Jim Costa (D-CA) introduced H.R. 848, the Farm Regulatory Certainty Act. H.R. 848 reaffirms and clarifies Congress’ intent regarding the inappropriateness of subjecting agricultural operation nutrient management activities under the Resources Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976 (RCRA). It also codifies the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulations regarding the treatment of agricultural operation nutrients under RCRA. Finally, the legislation will offer increased protection for individuals diligently seeking to treat identified issues, and prevent farmers from being targeted twice if they are already engaged in legal action or are making a diligent attempt to work with the state or federal government to address issues.
 
Rep. McMorris Rodgers: “The Farm Regulatory Certainty Act will help provide much-needed legal clarity and certainty for our farmers and for the state and federal agencies who enforce these regulations. I’m committed to creating a collaborative culture, where our farmers can, in good faith, work with state and federal agencies to comply with regulations and reduce their environmental footprint.”

Rep. Newhouse: “One of the fundamental principles of our free system of government is for the law to be clear, comprehensible, and knowable. Otherwise, it would be impossible to comply with ever-changing government regulations that do not follow the intent of a statute written by Congress. As a farmer, I know that the agriculture community works to comply with necessary regulations that preserve our environment, but rules that are redefined after the fact only create uncertainty and liability where there should be a bright line. I am introducing this legislation to provide needed clarity and reaffirm the intention of Congress when applying rules for nutrient management practices.”
 
Rep. Costa: “This legislation would reduce unfair regulatory burdens on farmers, ranchers, and dairymen who were never supposed to be subject to nutrient management regulations under the Resources Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). Now more than ever, due to changing weather patterns and a constantly fluctuating marketplace, farmers are dealing with unpredictable circumstances, and the Farm Regulatory Certainty Act would reign in overly aggressive regulatory efforts and re-establish the Congressional intent of RCRA. American farmers, ranchers, and dairymen are some of the strongest environmental stewards, and this legislation will ease their concerns of frivolous lawsuits so their operations can thrive.”  
 
Rep. Newhouse, Rep. Costa, and Rep. McMorris Rodgers were joined by original cosponsors Rep. Ralph Abraham (R-LA), Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-GA), Rep. Michael Conaway (R-TX), Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY), Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Rep. Henry Cuellar, Ph.D. (D-TX), Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA), Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-OH), Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI), Rep. Steve King (R-IA), Rep. Billy Long (R-MO), Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-MO), Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), Rep. Tom O’Halleran (D-AZ), Rep. Collin C. Peterson (D-MN), Rep. Robert Pittenger (R-NC), Rep. David Rouzer (R-NC), Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-OR), Rep. David Scott (D-GA), Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID), Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), Rep. Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson (R-PA), Rep. David G. Valadao (R-CA), Rep. Filemon Vela (D-TX), Rep. Ann Wagner (R-MO), and Rep. Ted S. Yoho, DVM (R-FL).
 
The Farm Regulatory Certainty Act would:

  • Reaffirm and clarify congressional intent regarding the inappropriateness of subjecting agricultural nutrients to RCRA.
  • Codify the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) regulations regarding the treatment of agricultural nutrients under RCRA.
  • Prevent farmers who are already engaged in legal action or are making a diligent attempt to work with the state or federal government to address nutrient management issues from being targeted by citizen suits.

The Farm Regulatory Certainty Act would not:

  • Prevent the EPA from enforcing current regulations under the Safe Water Drinking Act, the Clean Water Act, or any other applicable law.
  • Exempt livestock producers from any laws or regulations intended to govern agricultural operations.

 
Background:
 
In early 2015, a federal judge in Washington State erroneously ruled against several dairy farmers that nitrates found in groundwater – commonly a byproduct of manure and fertilizers – were a “solid waste” under the Resources Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), and that high water nitrate levels constituted “open dumping”. While farmers are subject to numerous water statutes, this misguided judicial decision unfortunately neglects the fact that RCRA – a law intended to govern safe disposal of solid wastes in sanitary landfills – was never intended to regulate agricultural operation nutrient management activities. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) original 1979 RCRA regulations include exceptions for agricultural byproducts returned to the soil as nutrients.

This decision places our entire agricultural community in a gray area of legal uncertainty. Farmers are now uncertain which statutes govern their nutrient management activities, and are open to increased liability from RCRA citizen suits based on undefined standards. Moreover, in the Washington State case, the farmers being sued under RCRA were working with EPA to address nutrient management issues prior to the citizen suit being filed. This inappropriate application of RCRA puts farmers on the defensive, and discourages proactive, voluntary stewardship of their land and water.

For the complete text of the legislation, click here.
 

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