Thursday, February 28, 2013

CRS Report Released: Environmental Regulation and Agriculture

The Congressional Research Service (CRS), the public policy research arm of Congress, recently issued the report Environmental Regulation and Agriculture (Feb. 22, 2013). The 51-page report authored by Megan Stubbs discusses the following:


As the U.S. and global economies continue to struggle, some inside and outside of Congress have expressed concern about how environmental regulation may stifle growth and productivity. Much of the criticism has focused on environmental regulations promulgated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Some claim that EPA is overreaching its regulatory authority and imposing costly and burdensome requirements on society. In general, the agriculture community, among others, has been vocal in its concerns, contending that EPA appears to be focusing some of its recent regulatory efforts on agriculture. Many public health and environmental advocates, on the other hand, support many of EPA’s overall regulatory efforts and in some cases argue that EPA has not taken adequate action to control the impacts of certain agricultural activities. Where agriculture contributes to environmental impairment, these groups say, it is appropriate to consider ways to minimize or eliminate the adverse impacts.
Growing interest in the impact of regulatory actions on many sectors of the economy is evident in Congress, which continues to examine the role of EPA and other federal agencies in regulating environmental protection. Congress has a number of policy options to address or respond to potential regulatory impacts
Most environmental regulations, in terms of permitting, inspection and enforcement, are implemented by state and local governments, often based on federal EPA regulatory guidance. In some cases, agriculture is the direct or primary focus of the regulatory actions. In other cases, agriculture is one of many affected sectors. Traditionally, farm and ranch operations have been exempt or excluded from many environmental regulations. Given the agricultural sector’s size and its potential to affect its surrounding environment, there is interest in both managing potential impacts of agricultural actions on the environment and also maintaining an economically viable agricultural industry. Of particular interest to agriculture are a number of regulatory actions affecting air, water, energy, and chemicals.
Agricultural production practices from both livestock and crop operations generate a variety of substances that enter the atmosphere, potentially creating health and environmental issues. Recent actions by EPA to regulate emissions and pollutants have drawn criticism, including greenhouse gas emission reporting and permitting requirements, and National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) related to particulate matter (commonly referred to as dust). The agricultural community continues to show particular interest in NAAQS because some farming and livestock practices contribute to particulate matter emissions.
Water quality issues also are of interest to the agricultural industry. Water is an input for production and can also be degraded as a result of production through the potential release of sediment, nutrients, pathogens, and pesticides. The extent and magnitude of water quality degradation from agriculture practices varies greatly, but agriculture is proven to be a significant source of impairment of several U.S. waters. Federal environmental laws largely do not regulate agricultural actors, in many cases giving the regulatory responsibilities to the states. One exception is large concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), which are subject to permitting requirements. Constraints on agricultural production to reduce pollution discharges typically arise at the state level in response to local concerns, and how to manage agricultural sources has been a prominent issue in several large watershed restoration efforts, such as those in the Chesapeake Bay and Florida Everglades.
Changes in energy policy, namely increased bioenergy production, have recently become important to many in the agricultural industry, based on the potential of corn-based biofuel production to contribute to the nation’s energy supply through both the renewable fuel standard (RFS) and the increased percentage of ethanol in gasoline (E15).
Hundreds of chemical products are available to repel or kill “pests” that affect agricultural production. The federal regulation of these chemicals includes registering and restricting their use. The risks associated with agricultural chemical use and possible impacts on human health and the environment also have led to recent federal regulatory reviews of chemical fertilizer and pesticide use.

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