By Rep Tim Walberg
Eighty-five percent of small business owners reported that excessive government regulations are keeping them from hiring, according to a Gallup survey last month. From the emails, phone calls and comments I hear in town-hall meetings, there's no question that the federal government over-regulates our nation's small businesses, often hindering their bottom line and ability to hire workers. In Michigan, our family farms have been especially hard hit by the long arm of Washington. Rules and regulations being churned out by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) constantly threaten farmers' ability to grow their crops, raise their animals, feed the world and expand their business. As a representative of a rural district, I will continue to support legislation that gives our farmers more certainty and reasonable environmental regulations so they can get back to doing what they do best.
The EPA has been particularly challenging for the excessive, and sometimes ridiculous, rules it has been imposing on farmers in recent years. Moving far beyond the regulatory jurisdiction Congress initially granted it to protect the environment, the EPA has resorted to legislating through regulations by imposing rules which do nothing to improve the health of our environment, but do result in more red-tape and higher fines for the agricultural community.
One notable rule fulfilled the old idiom by giving dairy farmers an actual reason to cry over spilled milk. Using their authority under a decade-old rule called the Oil Spill Prevention, Control and Countermeasure (SPCC) Rule, the EPA attempted to reclassify milk as oil and threatened farmers with fines up to $10,000 a year for an "oil spill." Fortunately, after much pushback from the farming community and members of Congress, the rule was rescinded.
Unfortunately, too many other rules are still keeping farmers under the government's thumb. In April 2011, the EPA released guidance that expanded upon what may be defined as a body of water under the Clean Water Act. While keeping our water clean is important, the EPA has taken the definition too far. Under the rule, mud puddles are being classified as "navigable water" and subjected to the same regulations as lakes and oceans.
Then there's the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit created under the Clean Water Act. The EPA has systematically increased the number of farms required to obtain NPDES permits by expanding the definition of "discharge" to include any amount of manure, dust or feathers on a farmyard that come into contact with stormwater.
To address these ongoing threats, I recently introduced the Flexibility to Farm Act to restore some common sense to farm regulations and provide local stakeholders with more say in how they balance environmental health and agricultural productivity in their communities.
It protects farmers from the EPA's one-size-fits-all approach by allowing states to "opt-out" of compliance with provisions of the Clear Air Act and Clean Water Act if the governor deems the regulation to be overly burdensome to a farmer. By allowing states to pull back on regulations that would otherwise hurt the farming community it protects jobs within the farming community.
It's obvious that the EPA has gone beyond protecting the environment with its rules and regulations -- to hurting the farming community. The Flexibility to Farm Act gives states the appropriate flexibility to craft policies which keep the environment and people safe, but also works with farmers and other small businesses to help them succeed. Farmers should be spending their time planting seeds, raising livestock and harvesting crops -- not filling out paperwork or paying fines for mud puddles in their backyard.
Washington needs to give farmers more certainty so they can concentrate on growing the healthy food that we put on our tables.