The Trump administration has taken the lead on reducing the crushing regulatory burden on farmers and ranchers, and it’s time for Congress to do its part by reforming the laws that created this regulatory burden in the first place. The next farm bill, expected to be considered in 2018, provides the best opportunity to make this happen in a very long time. Congress shouldn’t let this opportunity slip by.
Talk to farmers and there’s one thing you will consistently hear: the federal government is creating regulatory obstacles that are making it very difficult for them to produce the food that helps to feed this nation and the world. The regulatory problem in agriculture is widespread, impacting small and large farmers alike, as well as farmers across different commodities and across the entire country.
Imagine being a farmer and not knowing whether you can plow part of your land out of fear that federal bureaucrats will decide you would be violating the Clean Water Act. For farmer John Duarte, this was his reality. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, claiming Duarte’s plowing created furrows that were mini-uplands and “small mountain ranges,” went after him for improperly converting a wetland into an upland. Duarte just settled the case for $1.1 million.
There’s of course the infamous “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) rule that would have effectively regulated almost every water possible. The rule was so extreme that waters could have been regulated even though the human eye couldn’t see the water.
Fortunately, the Trump administration is moving towards getting rid of the WOTUS rule and will develop a new rule that will likely be based on the law and common sense. However, even before the WOTUS rule existed, there had been abuses of the Clean Water Act and future administrations keen on federal overreach will continue to threaten the livelihood and property rights of farmers.
This means that Congress needs to clarify what waters can be regulated under the Clean Water Act. The next farm bill provides this opportunity along with making other important Clean Water Act reforms.
Then there’s the Endangered Species Act. A law that was designed to protect species has instead become a law that has failed to achieve its objective while also trampling on the property rights of farmers and ranchers. Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, explained the failure of this law extremely well:
Of 1,652 species of animals and plants in the U.S. listed as either endangered or threatened since the law was passed in 1973, only 47 species have been delisted due to recovery of the species.
In other words, the Fish and Wildlife Service has concluded that less than 3 percent of species in the United States under the protection of the Endangered Species Act have recovered sufficiently to no longer necessitate the protection of the statute.
As a doctor, if I admit 100 patients to the hospital and only three recover enough under my treatment to be discharged, I would deserve to lose my medical license.
This law needs to be reformed so that it works. The focus shouldn’t be on protecting the ESA; it should be on protecting species. Farmers and ranchers bear a major brunt of this law in large part because they own much of the land that species can be found and through restrictions on the use of their property.
The CWA and ESA reforms for farmers are just the tip of the regulatory iceberg. These regulatory burdens aren’t simply an issue of costs, but an attack on freedom. No American deserves this abuse.
We can promote important environmental and other regulatory objectives without hurting farmers in the process. If the farm bill is supposed to promote sound policy in which farmers have the opportunity to succeed, then addressing the regulatory burden must be a top priority.
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