It's no secret that things in Washington, D.C. are a mess. What's less commonly understood is that, while the gridlock between Republicans and Democrats grabs headlines, for Montana the bigger conflicts arise between rural and urban interests.
President Obama is from Chicago. Meanwhile, some of his key Cabinet posts were filled by other big-city nominees. Hilda Solis, for example, took the helm at the Department of Labor. She's from Los Angeles. Lisa Jackson, is from New Orleans and worked in New Jersey before assuming the post as the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.
And this urban bias has reared its head in policy. Again and again, Washington, D.C. shows how out of touch it is with rural America, and we are forced to fight back to protect our way of life. Here are a few examples:
* Last month, the Senate voted to resurrect the old Death Tax and impose it on any family farm valued at more than $1 million. According to the US Department of Agriculture, the average farm in Montana is worth more than $1.6 million. Fortunately, the U.S. House has passed legislation to prevent this tax, and many others, from going up.
* The Department of Labor proposed a so-called "Youth Ag Rule" to severely limit the type of work young people are allowed to do on farms and ranches. This rule was not only insulting to producers who make safety a way of life, but it was a threat to the future of the family farm in America. I led the fight to have this rule removed and included a provision in the Department of Labor funding bill to prevent them from taking any further action to advance it.
* The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) wants to expand the authority of the Clean Water Act to include "non-navigable" water, giving them regulatory jurisdiction over just about any water anywhere including melted snow, mud puddles and prairie potholes. I introduced and got passed an amendment to the Energy and Water spending bill to stop this power grab.
* EPA fuel storage regulations would require producers with 1,320 gallons of total fuel storage to enact an oil spill prevention plan, and producers with over 10,000 gallons aggregate storage would have to have that plan professionally certified. So working with my colleagues in the House, we responded by passing the FUELS Act to protect farmers from this costly and unnecessary federal requirement.
* Grain bin "sweep auger" rules crafted by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OHSA) were so poorly defined they led to industry-wide confusion about what was needed to avoid costly fines. For example, OSHA warned that "an employee cannot work inside a bin while an unguarded sweep auger is in operation," but failed to define "unguarded" (sweep augers cannot function properly if they are completely guarded). So I added legislative language to the Labor Department Appropriations Bill to prevent OSHA from implementing these regulations in a way that is unworkable for Montana's grain elevators.
These are just a few of the more egregious examples, and I share them to make an important point. Under President Obama, rural representatives have our hands full.
Ideally, Congress would focus its time crafting a new Farm Bill to provide a critical safety net for Montana's farming and ranching families and a level of certainty for all the small businesses that depend on our state's agriculture industry. Unfortunately, a significant amount of time is needed to serve our function as a check and balance to President Obama's harmful anti-rural agenda and undo damage caused his rubber-stamp Senate.
But as our ag industry struggles with everything from droughts to floods and wildfires, there is simply no excuse for further delay in passing a Farm Bill. House leaders have a responsibility to bring the Farm Bill to the floor to move the process forward in a timely manner. I told them as much in a letter I sent them along with a handful of rural colleagues.
The feedback I've heard from Montanans at more than 100 public listening sessions could not be more urgent. I'm ready and eager to return to Washington, D.C. at any time to finish this important work.