The National Farmers Union, a general agricultural organization representing 300,000 family farmers and ranchers, takes this opportunity to comment on the proposed changes to air-quality standards for ozone and particulate matter (PM).
The National Farmers Union has a long history of supporting conservation programs, because the family farmers, as stewards of the land, are concerned about the environment. Significant levels of emissions are already controlled because farmers and ranchers are using good soil and water conservations practices and are keeping their equipment in good operating condition. It is simply in their best interest to do so because they seek to preserve the land to pass on to future generations.
National Farmers Union is concerned that the proposed changes to the air-quality standards for fine PM and ozone will greatly increase the regulation of farm operations and increase costs to farmers both directly and indirectly. We are additionally concerned that there is currently no funding in place to offset these costs other than what the farmer will be required to pay.
The costs of the proposed standards for ozone and fine particulate matter will fall heavily on individuals and state and local governments. Farmers, along with other other U.S. taxpayers, will pay for the new rules in many ways--through higher local and state taxes or through cuts in important state and local programs and services, including police and fire protection, education, help for the poor and homeless and other public programs. In a joint letter to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Carol Browner, the National League of Cities, the Conference of Mayors, the National Governors' Association, the National League of Counties, the National Conference of State Legislators, and other state and local organizations said the "proposed new standards would have an enormous impact...on the ability of state and local officials to meet other urgent priorities."
The new rules will change the way people live. The changes will range from the serious and expensive (higher state and local taxes and cuts in programs and services) to the moderately expensive (higher costs for things like electricity, cars and gasoline) to the aggravating and inconvenient (driving restrictions, increased automobile inspection and maintenance programs and mandatory car pooling).
State and local official are not the only ones criticizing EPA's proposals. Criticism of the proposals are widespread within the Clinton administration--a fact which EPA did not disclose to the public. A number of federal agencies, including the Treasury Department, the Office of Science and Technology, the Department of Commerce, the Department of Transportation, and the Small Business Administration, all said in documents just made public that the new standards are not justified. Another agency, the President's Council of Economic Advisors, said the EPA's estimates of the cost of the new rules--a combined $8.5 billion, according to the EPA--is considerably off the mark. According the council's estimates, the cost of the ozone standards alone will be $60 billion a year.
How can we justify increased standards for air-quality in rural America when the Conservation Reserve Program is now facing significant funding reductions? To improve the quality of our air, we should increase funding for these conservation programs rather than impose more regulations on farmers. In order to meet new standards, according to a report of the State and Territory Air Pollution Program Administrators and the Association of Local Air Pollution Control Offices (STAPPA/ALAPCO), the agricultural sector may face tighter operational and processing controls to reduce particulate matter emission. STAPPA/ALAPCO's proposed particulate emission control options for agriculture include:
*Wind breaks - and other residue management systems to reduce wind erosion.
*Conservation tillage - use of special equipment to avoid mixing in residues.
*Crop management - planting of legumes of grasses to build soils, grassed waterways.
*Cover crops - planting alfalfa and winter wheat to protect vegetation.
*Dust controls for storage areas - tarps, covers.
*Grain elevators - cyclones, fabric filters, vents application of oils to grain to control dust.
*Grain Transportation - covers on conveyer belts, bucket elevators, etc.
*Feed mills - moisture control measures and cleaning
The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Small Business Administration questioned the EPA's proposed standards on PM and charged that the new standards "are not based on adequate scientific evidence" and would have a "large economic impact" on "tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of small businesses" and farms. USDA further claimed that "it is premature for the EPA to change the existing standard until scientific evidence is correctly obtained and interpreted." USDA also noted the concerns held by farm groups that the new standards "may impose significant costs" on farmers, particularly the 71 percent of U.S. farms with annual sales of less than $40,000. The documents also suggest that the proposed regulations may drive up farming costs such as fuel, fertilizers, pesticides, and necessary chemicals.
When farmland regulations of this kind are determined, EPA and other government agencies should take into account the contribution of agricultural lands to improved air quality. Despite the fact that agriculture is not a major emitter of PM, the standards proposed by EPA would lead local and state governments to tighten regulation on farm operations. Because it is difficult to measure accurately the amount of fine particulate matter in the air, it is likely that under the new rules, arbitrary limits on what a farmer can till soil, harvest crops, or apply fertilizer could become an unfortunate reality. Although rural areas generally record low levels of pollution, these same areas could soon be in violation of the stricter standards if these proposed rules become law.
Because the proposed standards would stiffen the regulations of particulate matter, the impact of the new regulations would be significant to farmers. Fuel and energy costs are the third largest non-agricultural input supply expense for American farmers, and under the proposed rules farmers will be required to pay even more for transportation costs. Furthermore, federal, state or local regulators could decide that rural roads, including those on private lands, would need to be improved to meet the EPA's proposed standards, which could be very costly to farmers.
Agricultural operations have been interpreted as being a "significant source" of emission for particulate matter. Various agricultural facilities are presently being regulated in non-attainment zones primarily in the Southwest and Far West. Under the proposed PM-2.5 standards, new non-attainment zones may be proposed across the United States, potentially affecting all agricultural operations and family farms.
We urge EPA to work closely with USDA and others to ensure the availability of the best data pertaining to emissions from agricultural activities and the effects of control programs on agriculture and rural communities. National Farmers Union is concerned about the potential effects that implementing control programs, designed to help areas attain the new standard, could have on small farms. EPA defines small entities in the Regulatory Impact Analysis (RIA) as establishments with less than 100 employees. In many areas of the country, agriculture is characterized by owner-operator firms that typically employ few, if any, hired workers.
USDA's most recent data show that 71 percent of U.S. farms have annual sales of less than $40,000, while fewer than 6 percent have annual sales greater than $250,000. In 1994 and 1995, farmers spent about $170 billion on farm inputs and services. Both direct and indirect energy inputs account for about 22 percent of the total expenditures for agricultural production, according to USDA. However, direct and indirect energy account for a considerable higher percentage of farmers and variable expenses. With energy constituting a high percentage of variable expenses for many major crops and for livestock, farmers are sensitive to changes in variable expenses because production decisions are based on the prices of variable inputs. Production and/or use of many of these inputs could be affected by emission control programs, including fuel that powers farm equipment, electricity, fertilizers, pesticides, and other agricultural chemicals. Because a large proportion of farms are small entities, increased costs for farm inputs would surely have a negative impact on their financial performance.
We are also concerned that existing equipment on farms will be required to be altered to adhere to the new standard, resulting in significant expense to farmers during EPA review; we consider it to be an important time to define what equipment is considered "old" or "new". Until now, we have been unable to determine a clear definition of these terms for farm machinery. Examples of PM emissions from agriculture include dust from cultivation and harvesting, wind-blown dust from feedlots, grain elevators and grain mills, and diesel soot. Emission of PM also include PM precursors such as ammonia, which rises from feedlots and dairies, diesel emissions, nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxides from industrial boilers, soot from fires and spray drift from crop protection products.
National Farmers Union is concerned about the characterization of pollution in particular air sheds. Where does the pollution come from, and what activity caused it? What percentage of the total pollution inventory results from an activity? Are there cost-effective control strategies that reduce pollution while maintaining productivity? We believe a well coordinated research program with federal, state and local participation is necessary in order to begin answering these questions. Without answers, controls could be costly and ineffective.
In the spirit of cooperation, we believe it is imperative that USDA develop a specific Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with EPA to transfer technical expertise and support for those air-quality issues derived by the Clean Air Act Scientific Advisory Committee which significantly involve or affect the agricultural industry. Agricultural scientists possess the knowledge to provide this expertise which will maintain USDA confidence and integrity among the agricultural industry producers. This must be a serious and outgoing commitment by USDA to provide this avenue of knowledge, research, development, and technology transfer.
We found that many current, agricultural air-quality issues require additional understanding and knowledge well beyond that which exists today. Examples are the unknowns about particulars emitted by wind-blown dust, field operations and nonroad-engine emissions. We would recommend you consider a departmental air-quality research initiative to provide the level of understanding of the environmental impacts this issue demands, in the same way in which we addressed water quality issues in recent years that is cooperatively handled by several agencies.
We believe agricultural producers will continue to implement many of the air-control measures to benefit our environment. It is imperative that farmers be provided the knowledge and flexibility to design and voluntarily apply air-quality controls locally. Each area of the country faces different air- quality challenges. We urge you to encourage increased cooperation with EPA scientists, USDA officials, agricultural producers and others to arrive at control strategies that work. For example, some EPA regulations require a reduction in agricultural burning. However, the conservation practice "Prescribed Burning" which has proven to be an effective tool for some selected production systems to control pest and diseases. This method does not applicable in every case; therefore it is critical to have locally led efforts to achievconservation goals.
In conclusion, before more research can be completed to determine exactly how much PM-2.5 is emitted on farm operations, we strongly urge that no changes are made to current standards. As the control measures required under the Clean Air Act continue to be met, further reductions in particulate and ozone emissions will continue to decrease, and air-quality will continue to improve. We support the conservation practices and other measures taken as part of the Clean Air Act, and we look forward to continuing to work with you on this important matter.
We support the development of a one-stop conservation planning system for agriculture through the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). A single conservation plan jointly developed by the farm operator and the NRCS should be established to fulfill the requirements for the current maze of land and water regulations of various governmental agencies.
Conservation programs should be good for the environment, reward stewardship of land and water resources, discourage speculative development of fragile land resources, strengthen family farming and enhance rural communities.
The objective of the conservation plan must be to reduce and control wind and water erosion, prevent non-point pollution, and enhance the soil and water capacities of the land.
The plan should designate which highly erodible soils should not be tilled and which may be tilled with approved conservation practices. It should clearly map and document both existing and drained wetlands, as well as any drains and channels. The plan should outline the conservation of wetlands, as well as the maintenance of drains and channels. It should also provide for meeting soil erosion goals and controlling non-point pollution.
Such a conservation planning system should replace the existing sodbuster, swampbuster, Corps of Engineers flood-plain and other regulations which impact agricultural lands. The plan should be supervised and approved by the USDA committee process, with the technical assistance of the NRCS.
Once the plan is filed with NRCS and implemented, a producer should be deemed to be in compliance with all federal agencies. Producers should be allowed to remedy inadvertent or unavoidable failures to carry out conservation plan practices, and penalties should be based on the degree of the violation. Loss of full federal farm program benefits should be imposed only in cases of purposeful destruction of conservation practices. Current conservation compliance requirements allow too few options to account for local involvement, climatic conditions, and geography, which are beyond producer control.
1. Government Programs
Government conservation programs should be funded at levels that will ensure the continued protection of our nation's soil and water resources. Such financing should be on a long-term basis, providing federal commitments for at least five years ahead and providing conservation assistance on a level designed to meet the needs as shown in the federal land conservation inventory and the appraisals under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976 and other federal studies.
The needs are so widespread and urgent that any "targeted conservation" program would, if it were motivated by something more than budget savings, have to call for a vast expansion of federal conservation investment. We request that federal financing to meet clean water and air standards of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) be available to farmers from funds appropriated by Congress for this purpose, and that such funds be administered through the farmer-elected committees.
We urge continued improvement and acceleration of the small watershed programs.
We support the continuation and expansion of the Environmental Quality Incentives Program which includes, the Agricultural Conservation Program (ACP), Water Quality Incentives Program, Great Plains Conservation Program, the Colorado River Basin Salinity Control Program, and other soil and water programs, and we urge full appropriation of funding directed to family farmers and ranchers.
We urge that ACP be funded at not less than the $500-million level as originally authorized by the Soil Conservation and Domestic Allotment Act of 1937, and we strongly urge that the conservation cost-sharing delivery system for all rural federal conservation cost-sharing funds be through the farmer-elected committee system.
Farmers should be able to put strips into grass for soil conservation purposes and use these strips year after year for diverting and conserving without losing base.
2. Agricultural Resources Conservation Program
We support the Environmental Conservation Acreage Reduction Program (ECARP). We urge full funding of the three branches of ECARP--the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), the Wetlands Reserve Program, and the Water Quality Incentives Program--to ensure proper implementation.
We also support greater emphasis on improved farm management techniques. Teaching farmers to be the best possible stewards of their resources is a better long-term approach to sustainability than simple land retirement.
We recommend that the payments due to cooperating farmers in ECARP be in cash, rather than in certificates or CCC commodities.
We support the 25-percent-per-county acreage limit for ECARP.
The CRP program needs to be closely monitored by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Farm Service Agency (FSA) with enough funding to enforce contract requirements for adequate weed, insect, and fire control. Enrollees should be allowed to manage permanent vegetative cover to enhance wildlife habitat and ecosystem health.
In extending the Conservation Reserve Program and CRP contracts, we recommend that the program be better focused to serve the needs of family farmers and ranchers and to protect highly erodible land (HEL) and other environmentally sensitive lands.
CRP lands which can qualify for the Wetlands Reserve or Water Quality Incentive programs should be extended and transferred to those programs through voluntary participation.
All CRP lands currently enrolled in the program should be re-evaluated for contract. The most environmentally sensitive land should be given first opportunity for contract.
CRP lands diverted into long-term timber and forestry conservation projects should be given a high priority for contract re-enrollment. We recommend that planting property to shelterbelts or other conservation measures be encouraged through reduced property taxes on those acres. We recommend that producers who destroy shelterbelts or wooded areas establish the same number of acres of new trees for a minimum of 10 years.
We favor CRP contracts and contract extensions for periods of not less than 10 years. We favor programs which maintain CRP lands in private ownership in the hands of resident family farm and ranch operators.
Incentives to aid beginning farm and ranch families should be offered on land that was previously enrolled in CRP, but is not environmentally sensitive under the new rules and will not be re-enrolled.
We urge that financial and technical assistance be provided to producers in preparing CRP acreages for sustainable agricultural systems that will meet established conservation standards. In addition, land managed with appropriate organic standards while enrolled in CRP should be eligible for organic certification upon leaving the program.
In times of extended drought conditions or other weather disasters, haying or grazing on CRP acres should be allocated to all livestock producers based on need. The FSA farmer-elected county committees should be given authority to set the date of harvest, based on the nutritional value of hay. These regulations should be in place so the procedures are known in advance. The maximum landowner income from the haying and grazing should not exceed the annual CRP contract amount from that farm.
3. Sodbuster and Swampbuster Provisions
We support provisions which give the secretary greater authority in handling sodbuster and swampbuster violations.
The goal of soil conservation practices should be to reduce soil losses to tolerable levels, or "T-levels." We recommend that alternative conservation systems be used only in cases of financial hardship, after recommendation of local conservation officials.
We call upon Congress to designate the FSA as the single agency to regulate swampbuster provisions.
Wetlands deserve protection in order to preserve harmony with the nation's land and its resources and natural systems on which all life depend.
Requiring re-certification of wetlands at five-year intervals creates a moving target for producers in their compliance efforts. While we support a single, coordinated approach to wetlands protection, we believe that producers must be provided full opportunity to participate in the development and review of such joint regulation. We reaffirm our support for making the NRCS and FSA the lead agencies in wetlands delineations on agricultural land.
We support the joint efforts of these agencies to propose a single set of definitions and rules in the proposed revisions to the 1989 Federal Manual for Identifying and Delineating Jurisdictional Wetlands, which are pending release. However, the proposed manual's exemption of the prairie pothole region of the United States from its coverage leaves many farmers with no chance for an improvement in wetlands procedures. This critical error must be corrected in the final manual, since commodity production and farm survival are at stake.
In addition, we recommend:
1) that any and all wetlands determinations throughout the United States rely on the presence of all three of the following mandatory wetland criteria simultaneously appearing on the same site year-round: a) hydrology; b) a predominance of hydric soil; and c) a prevalence of hydrophilic vegetation;
2) that all existing wetland determinations be reevaluated under the proposed manual's uniform definitions and procedures with the elimination of buffer zones;
3) that the federal government consult with state and local governments to develop a unified, mutually agreeable management program to protect our nation's wetlands;
4) that a wetlands management program balance wetland values and the needs of the various states and their political subdivisions and individual property rights;
5) that any leaseholder, renter, or owner be compensated equitably for the taking of any lands through the classification of wetlands;
6) that for the protection and preservation of our natural resources as well as our human resources and our free-enterprise system and democratic way of life, the final interagency manual be revised with greater consideration for the food and fiber producers of the United States;
7) that regulations ought to be amended to allow farmers to mitigate wetlands in a given acreage, provided that there is no net loss of wetlands in that acreage; and
8) that Congress study the impact of current and any new wetlands proposals on agricultural producers, family timber operations, and rural communities and give careful consideration in identifying and separately regulating any artificially created wetlands. Induced wetlands should be exempt from wetland restrictions.
5. Predator and Rodent Control
Since the 1931 Animal Damage Control Act (ADC) mandates that the federal government protect the livestock industry from predatory loss, we recommend that the original intent of the law be enforced.
Judicious use of control practices must be continued on federal, state, and private lands to control coyotes and other predators.
To the extent that an adequate ADC program is not available to farmers, we recommend that a federally financed indemnity program be instituted to pay for livestock losses.