AGRICULTURE APPROPRIATIONS CONFERENCE REPORT -- (Senate - November 02, 2005)
Mr. CRAIG. It is my understanding that for the remainder of the day, we have completed work on budget reconciliation and we are about to move to the Agriculture appropriations conference. I understand Chairman Bennett is on his way to the floor, and as soon as he gets here I will yield, but I thought for the few moments that remain prior to that, I would discuss that very important appropriations conference we will soon be discussing.
The reason I want to do that is because I made an effort during the appropriations conference to deal with what I believe is a major issue threatening American agriculture today that the Congress has largely ignored at this moment, and the courts are now working their will and the trial bar is working its will at the moment to try to change the intent of law.
The agricultural industry is, I think, very concerned about litigation actions being taken to apply the Superfund law, referred to as CERCLA, and its counterpart, the Community Right to Know Act, better known as EPCRA, to emissions or discharges primarily from livestock and poultry waste produced during the normal course of farming operations.
Someone would say, You mean a dairy farm or a poultry operation ought to be plunged into Superfund? Well, that is exactly what is being attempted at this moment and, of course, we would say no. The reason we say no is because when those laws were created by Congress, agriculture was clearly exempt. It was intended to be and it was exempt at that time. If you were to put agriculture into the CERCLA/EPCRA issue, according to EPA's own description, then you have changed the whole dynamics.
According to the EPA's own description, the Superfund law is ``the Federal Government's program to clean up the nation's uncontrolled hazardous waste sites. Under the Superfund program, abandoned, accidentally spilled, or illegally dumped hazardous wastes that pose a current or future threat to human health or the environment are cleaned up.''
That is the responsibility of EPA under that issue. Are dairies and feedlots uncontrolled and abandoned hazardous waste sites? That is what we are talking about at this moment.
EPA goes on to say that ``the Superfund law created a tax on the chemical and petroleum industries and allowed the Federal Government to respond to releases or potential releases of hazardous wastes that might harm people or the environment. The tax went to a trust fund for cleaning up abandoned or uncontrolled hazardous waste sites.''
The question is, if we allow the courts and the legal process to drive those in agriculture into EPCRA and into CERCLA--again the Superfund law and the Community Right to Know law--is Congress then ready to appropriate moneys for other concentrated herd releases that might result? Should dairies, poultry farms, farmer-owned cooperatives, and others be required to pay into Superfund as the nuclear laboratories and the petroleum industry do?
That was never the intent of Congress, and in trying to speak to that issue, Congress has to date been silent because environmental groups have moved in and are standing at the doors of some of my colleagues, wringing their hands and saying oh, no, no, communities have the right to know and it ought to be included in all of this, even though the law says not.
Now, that is not to say that these agricultural entities of the day are not responsible for clean air and clean water. They are under the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act. They work with EPA in those standards. They work with their State environmental councils and environmental departments to meet those kinds of standards.
What we are talking about is a legal issue attempting to shift, if you will, these responsibilities away from the intent of the law, as spoken to so very clearly by this Congress in the creation of those two entities, EPCRA and CERCLA.
Another provision of the Superfund law allows EPA to fine violators up to $27,500 per day. Does that sound like a sum tailored to fit a farmer? Environmental groups would have you think that, well, you know, this is only for the big boys, the big operators. But then they do not define big. They say, well, large concentrated herd areas. It is the small versus large issue. Once it is well established
that large operators in American agriculture are required to comply under these acts and meet the standards of the acts, any of us who have ever watched the progress or the evolution or the migration of law through the courts over time know it is only a moment in time before the small operator is included.
I made an effort during Agriculture appropriations and Agriculture appropriations conferences to clarify this issue and to say once again very clearly to the American public the intent of the laws of Superfund and Community Right to Know, and those intents were very clear--not to include American agriculture. It isn't the big versus small issue at all. It is where do you rest the responsibility on the issue. It is not to say that American agriculture doesn't have a responsibility. Of course, they do. And they are fulfilling that responsibility under State law, under county zoning, under EPA, under the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act. These are issues that I hope this Congress will soon address.
As to my amendment that I attempted, that the Republicans in the Senate did support in the conference, the conference collapsed itself so that it would not have to deal with this ``thorny issue'' of the moment; it walked away from the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture that supported our effort and the Southern Association of State Departments of Agriculture because at the State level, State Departments of Agriculture get it, they understand it, and they know this has to be clarified. We cannot let the trial bar, if you will, and communities of interest try to rewrite public policy through the court process. That is exactly what is going on today. Several lawsuits have been filed in this effort.
I am certainly going to be back, as I know many of my colleagues will, in attempting to deal with this very important issue. I do respect what Chairman Bennett had to do to move the Agriculture appropriations conference forward. I had hoped we could get the CERCLA and EPCRA amendment into the conference, but it is not here. The conference is silent to it. The conference did good work. I am pleased to see that we could get as far as we could get in a variety of issues.
The chairman and the ranking member are now in the Chamber. They had a tough road to meet budget reconciliation with what they were allocated. I know that was difficult, and I appreciate the work my staff was able to do with the chairman and the ranking member's staffs to get where we got with what we have today. I wish we had my amendment. I don't want those who say they stand for agriculture walking away from this issue and allowing the courts to rewrite public policy. If we are responsible practitioners of public policy--and that is what we are--then this is an issue we well ought to take on. Every State in the Nation has this problem today, and we ought not let the bar, the courts, and a few interested parties rewrite our laws.
I hope we can address this again at another time.
I do appreciate the work that was done. There were a lot of issues left on the table in this conference I hoped we could have addressed, that we could then get to, certainly those which dealt with healthy forests, categoric exclusions, and other issues, but that is debate for another day.
The chairman is in the Chamber. It is 6 o'clock. It is his time to bring forth the Agriculture appropriations conference report. I thought I would use some of the limited time we have to debate this important appropriations conference report.
Mr. President, I yield the floor.