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Environmental Smoke and Mirrors

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Environmental smoke and mirrors
by Senator Larry Craig

Recently, there has been quite a bit of hysteria about an amendment I proposed to the Senate Veterans Affairs - Housing and Urban Development Appropriations bill for Fiscal Year (FY) 2005. "Craig plan to exempt dairies is a bad idea," frets the Idaho State Journal. "Craig would let livestock industry pollute in secret" warns the Idaho Statesman. Unfortunately, it is becoming clear that the only secrecy taking place originates from radical environmentalists and their allies on the editorial boards, who are not telling the public the whole story.

After reading the editorials, I am strongly compelled to lay out some facts which are important for everyone to understand. Environmentalists have begun a new attack on the agriculture industry, using a familiar tactic: lawsuits. Rather than push changes through the legislative process, they hope activist judges will reinterpret two federal environmental laws to apply to dairy farms and other livestock operations.

If successful, the agriculture industry would now be governed by these two additional laws, commonly referred to by their acronyms "CERCLA" and "EPCRA", on top of the federal Clean Air and Water Acts that already regulate these operations. Further, these same producers are already subject to numerous state and local regulations that require special operating permits and a comprehensive plan to manage animal waste, among several others.

Passed in 1980, CERCLA is also known as the "Superfund" act because it has been used to regulate and clean up man-made industrial emissions or immediate hazardous sites like weapons dumps, municipal landfills, and mining operations. EPCRA establishes requirements for emergency planning and notification to neighbors about storage and release of hazardous and toxic man-made chemicals.

These two statutes administered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) carry with them onerous reporting requirements and fines that could exceed $27,500 per violation per day. I should also mention that these laws would allow lawsuits against emissions violations that occurred any time in the past five years.

It is misleading to charge that I am seeking an exemption for farmers, because livestock operations were never intended to be regulated by CERCLA and EPCRA. My legislative efforts seek to clarify that these statutes do not apply to farmers, and thus prevent judicial overreach. I don't believe that the federal government should be in the business of regulating agriculture through the same standards as weapons dumps, abandoned mining operations, or other industrial sites.

It is no secret that livestock operations providing the high-quality meat, egg, and dairy products you and I consume every day have become larger in order to remain profitable in a volatile industry. This trend has been at the center of public policy debate and scientific scrutiny. Regulatory agencies including the EPA and the National Academy of Sciences acknowledge that additional data and research are needed before guidelines can be tailored to the uniqueness of animal agriculture operations. Yet, environmentalists are trying to force a square peg into a round hole.

Don't be fooled with all the claims that "factory farms" are the target, either. Leading experts from Pennsylvania State University and Cornell University estimate that livestock operations as small as 200-500 head would be caught up in the dragnet of regulation under CERCLA and EPCRA. If these figures hold true, the average dairy operation in Idaho could be subject to fines of $27,500 per day. Should these operations be classified as "factory farms," as the environmentalists wish?

The legislation I am proposing would do nothing to weaken environmental regulations to which livestock operations are and continue to be subject. Current laws can always be amended by bringing proposals to the state legislatures or Congress and engaging in the democratic process. Forcing an agenda upon our agricultural community by legislating through third-party lawsuits is not sound public policy, especially when our nation's regulatory agencies and leading experts are still searching for clarity on this issue.

The focus should not be on suing farm families out of business, but fostering innovative solutions to environmental disagreements. Idaho's agricultural community is leading the charge and several projects are being implemented to manage animal waste that will benefit the environment and the farmer's bottom line. It is past time for environmental activists to demonstrate some leadership as well.

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