EPW Hearing Statement: The Impact of Federal Environmental Regulations and Policies on American Farming and Ranching Communities

WASHINGTON – Today, the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure held the hearing, “The Impact of Federal Environmental Regulations and Policies on American Farming and Ranching Communities” Below is the opening statement of Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-Del.), as prepared for delivery:

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding this hearing today. In no other sector of this country’s economy is success more closely tied to the quality of the environment than our agricultural sector. Farmers are our nation’s original conservationists. They understand better than anyone the need for clean air, clean water and high quality soil to produce the food we need to feed ourselves and much of the world.

“In Delaware, over 40 percent of our land is dedicated to farming, and our state’s agricultural sector employs some 30,000 Delawareans, while contributing nearly $8 billion a year to our state’s economy. I’m proud to say that the First State’s farmers are first in the nation for value of products produced per acre, first in number of lima bean acres harvested, and Sussex County – the third largest county in America – is first in the country by county for broiler production. We do this all while practicing exceptional environmental stewardship with our farming community working in close partnership with USDA, state agencies, and our universities.

“Our nation’s environmental laws have been instrumental in helping to deliver clean air, clean water, and productive lands for our farmers and ranchers. I should add to that list our foresters and fishing communities, because their success also greatly depends on a healthy environment and vital ecosystems. For example, EPA has found that the 2005 Clean Air Act rules that protect our lungs from ground level smog also protects our crops and animals, to the tune of $13 billion dollars in estimated benefits by 2020. The Clean Air Act also protects crops from damaging ultraviolet radiation by protecting the planet’s ozone layer and limiting the use of ozone depleting chemicals. In fact, it turns out that those Clean Air Act protections will prevent an estimated 7.5 percent drop in future crop yields in 2075. 

“There are other environmental issues where we need to act and do more to help our farmers. For example, climate change is already disrupting the livelihoods of farmers and ranchers. The federal government’s Third National Climate Assessment found that, and I quote: ‘climate disruptions to agricultural production have increased in the past 40 years and are projected to increase over the next 25 years. By mid-century and beyond, these impacts will be increasingly negative on most crops and livestock.’ The Climate Science Special Report released in November 2017 confirmed these trends. I look forward to hearing the testimony of our witnesses on this topic.

“Other environmental programs have created new income opportunities for farmers. The Renewable Fuel Standard has been a major economic driver in farm communities across the country. In addition, tens of thousands of farmers across the country are enrolled in USDA’s conservation programs that pay farmers for the water quality and habitat conservation services they provide and protect.

“I acknowledge, though, that sometimes environmental requirements can be complex and confusing to those who farm. One such example is the air emissions reporting requirements for farms under two laws: the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, known as CERCLA, and the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act, known as EPCRA. In 2008, the Bush Administration promulgated a rule that exempted all but the largest farms from reporting under these laws. In 2017, the DC Circuit Court overturned the 2008 rule, putting farmers on notice that they would soon need to begin reporting. Unfortunately, EPA’s reporting guidance to farmers for this reporting has been confusing and unhelpful.

“Along with a number of other colleagues, I have been pushing EPA for several months now to do better. EPA agreed it had more work to do, and at my urging agreed to request more time from the court to continue developing workable guidance and if necessary, to give Congress time to act on this issue. Thankfully, the court agreed, and last week gave EPA until May 1st to get it right. With the 2008 rule no longer in place, I am committed to working toward a solution that balances the burden of this reporting on our farmers with the legitimate needs of public health and emergency response officials and the right of local community members to know about pollution in their air. This is what the Bush Administration sought to do in 2008, and it is how I believe we should proceed now.

“Thank you again, Mr. Chairman, for bringing us together today for an important conversation as we explore opportunities for ‘win-win’ solutions that both support our farmers and improve our environment.”