Lucas Discusses Threats to American Agriculture with Farm Broadcasters

May 5, 2010

Tamara Hinton (202) 225-0184

WASHINGTON – Today, Ranking Member Frank Lucas discussed the many threats American agriculture and rural communities face with members of the National Association of Farm Broadcasting at their annual Washington Watch event.

Ranking Member Lucas issued a statement at the event in which he said:
"Like many Members, I travel across my district and talk to constituents about the challenges facing them.  Frankly, they do not regard the stimulus package, Obamacare, cap and trade, and environmental policies such as new spray drift regulations, crop protection chemical reviews, and the EPA’s endangerment finding to be solutions to their problems.  They ask why Washington can’t pass the already-negotiated free trade agreements, settle the death tax, and reduce a bloated federal government that spends too much money."
The full text of the statement is below:
Welcome to Washington and thank you for inviting me to participate in your annual Washington Watch program.  It is a pleasure to be with you.
I would also like to thank you for your contributions as agriculture journalists and farm broadcasters.  You make it possible for those living throughout rural America to stay informed about the issues that matter most to our farmers, ranchers, and citizens of rural communities. 
As you know, Chairman Peterson has kicked-off the 2012 Farm Bill hearing process.  I was pleased to be a part of the first set of field hearings in Iowa, Idaho, California and Wyoming this past weekend.  And, I was also a part of the hearing in Washington a few weeks ago where Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack testified before the Agriculture Committee.  I commend Chairman Peterson for starting this process early and believe the hearings will be beneficial as we move forward.
As we begin the process of preparing for the next farm bill, it’s important to consider the context in which our farmers and ranchers are operating these days.  What have the Obama administration and the Democratic-controlled Congress done and what have they left undone?  Like many Members, I travel across my district and talk to constituents about the challenges facing them.  Frankly, they do not regard the stimulus package, Obamacare, cap and trade, and environmental policies such as new spray drift regulations, crop protection chemical reviews, and the EPA’s endangerment finding to be solutions to their problems.  They ask why Washington can’t pass the already-negotiated free trade agreements, settle the death tax, and reduce a bloated federal government that spends too much money.
Agriculture’s Most Significant Threat: 
Out-of-Touch Administration & Democratic Leadership
"This leads me to what I would like to discuss with you today – the serious threats that American agriculture faces.  The most significant is the tremendous disconnect between the people running Washington – the Obama Administration, the Democratic-controlled Congress and liberal special interests – and the needs and wants of the men and women who work in production agriculture and throughout rural America.

For the past year, the President and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have taken a governing approach that suggests they believe public policy should be in spite of the American people, instead of on behalf of the American people.  They have dismissed the legitimate concerns the American people have raised regarding jobs, the economy, reckless spending, a national energy tax, and government-run health care.  The message from this administration has been we know what’s best for you and we’re going to push our agenda through Congress.  They’re not working to advance the interests of the American public; they’re working to advance their own interests and those of their extreme special interest allies. 

The debate in Washington over the last 16 months has been dominated by three major issues – a stimulus package that showed the Democrats’ commitment to trillion dollar deficits, the Democrat’s national energy tax, and the Democrats’ government takeover of health care.  All three of these issues will have a huge impact on our farmers and ranchers.
  • Trillion Dollar Deficits: Irresponsible and reckless deficit spending will inevitably result in significantly higher interest rates and significantly higher borrowing costs for producers. 
  • National Energy Tax: Production agriculture is an energy intensive industry, which already operates on slim profit margins.  It’s an industry that can least afford the drastic increase in production and input costs that will result from a national energy tax.
  • Healthcare Takeover: It puts the government in charge of our health care system under the deceptive banner of reform. It’s another example of the Democrats expanding the size and expense of our government
But believe it or not, as big as those issues are it is only the beginning.  And because of the incredible size and scope of their agenda, too little focus and attention has been paid to a long list of other issues which, when combined, reveals an ongoing effort that will make it impossible for farmers and ranchers to produce the food and fiber of this country.  Or, it at least makes it impossible for them to do it in a way where they can make a living and also provide affordable products for American families to purchase.
This is what I want to discuss with you today, all of the many threats and economic burdens that Washington is piling on top of our farmers and ranchers. 
Threat:  Out-of-Control EPA, Banned Products, and a Backdoor Energy Tax
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is a good place to start.  It seems that every day the EPA is proposing a new regulation, facilitating new litigation, or otherwise allowing unelected bureaucrats to run wild across the farms and ranches of America.  Under the Obama administration, this EPA is most interested in pursuing the extreme agenda of environmental groups with a blatant disregard for the impact it will have on our farmers and ranchers. 
The development and use of vital crop protection tools have brought us the bounty produced by American agriculture.  However, unless the EPA is reined in, safe and effective pesticides, herbicides, and other agriculture chemicals will be banned from use, and farmers and ranchers will be faced with a crippling array of new regulations and rules.  Two recent EPA actions could result in these widely-used, safe and effective tools being removed the market:
  • Zero-Drift Standard: While acknowledging that some level of spray drift occurs regardless of the technology, the EPA is proposing to mandate a zero-drift standard for pesticide labels.  If this change is implemented, it would make it impossible for farmers to use pesticides.  It seems the intent would be to make it easier for bureaucrats to enforce, rather than for a farmer to safely and effectively apply pesticides.
  • Unprecedented Re-Review of Atrazine: The EPA is engaged in an unprecedented re-review process for the widely used herbicide atrazine.  The EPA only recently finished a 12 year examination of nearly 6,000 studies and concluded that the product is safe and poses no threat to human health or the environment.  But, that was not sufficient for the environmental lobby and the EPA has launched this costly re-review that could jeopardize the future use of atrazine by farmers.  By the EPA’s own estimate, corn growers stand to lose $28 an acre if atrazine is not available.  That might not mean much to a bureaucrat in DC, but it means a significant reduction to a farmer’s bottom-line and to consumers’ budgets.
The cap and trade legislation that Speaker Pelosi and Chairman Waxman envision is the single largest economic threat to the agriculture industry as well as the pocketbook of every American.  Speaker Pelosi rammed the more than 1,000 page bill through the House and it narrowly passed in June.  Now it’s bottled up in the Senate with Sen. Reid continuing to assert that the Senate will debate the bill soon.  
Meanwhile, the administration has decided if it can’t pass cap and trade into law then it will have the EPA simply implement cap and trade by rulemaking. 
  • Back Door National Energy Tax: In December, the EPA formally concluded that the breath we exhale contains a dangerous pollutant – carbon dioxide – and should be subject to regulation under the Clean Air Act.  This endangerment finding is just an underhanded way of imposing de facto cap and trade regulations on the American people.  This is why I joined more than 130 of my colleagues and co-sponsored a bi-partisan resolution of disapproval to block the EPA from imposing terrifying standards on the American people that would cripple agriculture and stifle economic growth in this country.  This effort is also supported by nearly 200 agriculture groups and Congress should pass this resolution this summer. 
The EPA must be stopped from telling our farmers and ranchers how to do their jobs.  The only way we can do that is if those that have the most at stake remain engaged and vocal about the real world implications of the Obama EPA regulatory assault.
Threat:  More Regulation & Bureaucracy
Washington and Congress Telling Farmers How to Farm
Unfortunately, it is not just the EPA that wants to layer regulation after regulation on top of our producers; we also have others in Washington trying to tell our farmers and ranchers how to do their jobs.   Some of my very senior colleagues in the House – working in conjunction with environmental and other liberal special interest groups and with Speaker Pelosi’s blessing – are getting in the game too.
  • Expansion of Clean Water Act:Rep. Jim Oberstar (D-MN) – Chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee – recently introduced legislation to drastically expand the scope and reach of the Clean Water Act.  Under his legislation, every wet or potentially wet area in the US, from irrigation canals to small ponds to seasonal mud-puddles will be subject to new and sweeping regulations and permitting.  Similar legislation was reported out of committee in the Senate and Chairman Oberstar has vowed to move it in the House this summer.  
  • Food Safety Bill - expands the government, but not government responsibility: Last year, Rep. Henry Waxman the Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee and the Democrat Leadership pushed food safety legislation through the House. While the goal of the bill is to enhance food safety, it comes at a heavy toll on producers and does virtually nothing to hold federal bureaucrats responsible for their role in preventing food borne illness.  The Senate is likely to debate similar legislation in the coming weeks. Our nation has the safest food supply in the world.  Even so, we must continually examine our food production and regulatory system, and move forward with changes that actually improve food safety.  The Waxman bill was, at best, a missed opportunity.  It expands the reach and authority of the FDA, while doing nothing to hold the agency accountable.  This legislation does not require FDA to spend any additional funds on the inspection of food, but does authorize the agency to regulate on-farm production practices.  And most significantly, it does nothing to protect farmers from the financial implications when the agency erroneously questions the safety of farm products – as they have so dramatically done in the past.
  • Increased Regulation of Ag Chemicals:  Rep. Bennie Thompson (D – MS) – Chairman of the Homeland Security and the Democrat Leadership rushed through the House last summer legislation that imposes more government mandates on our farmers, ranchers and small businesses without considering the economic impact of their actions. The Chemical and Water Security Act, has nothing to do with protecting our country from acts of terrorism.  But, rather it has everything to do with pacifying the extreme environmental lobby.  The legislation sets up a scenario where input supplies will be limited, costs will sky-rocket, and U.S. food security and the livelihood of our farmers will be threatened.
Add all of these issues up and it is clear that Speaker Pelosi and her lieutenants in Congress, working in conjunction with Obama administration, want to dictate to farmers and ranchers how to feed the American public.  They think bureaucrats in DC know better than farmers and ranchers.  I disagree and, again, our producers must have their voices heard if we are to stop this assault on production agriculture coming from Washington, DC.
Threat:  Extreme Animal Rights Activists
Animal agriculture is under assault by extremely well-funded animal rights activists who, at the very least, want to impose their own view of animal husbandry on the livestock community.  There are many who believe the ultimate goal of these activists is the removal of animal products from the American diet.  Unfortunately, these groups have powerful allies in Washington that want to help them achieve their objectives.   
  • Banning Animal Antibiotics:Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY), Chairwoman of the powerful Rules Committee, has introduced legislation to ban the safe and effective use of antibiotics in animal agriculture under the guise of improving public health.  She wants to take us down the failed path Denmark followed.  Denmark experienced a significant increase in animal disease and death following its ban on the practice of delivering antibiotics in feed, a practice which prevents disease and offers added benefits in terms of growth promotion, feed efficiency and environmental stewardship.  What Denmark has not been able to document, even to this day, is any evidence of improved public health. 
  • Banning Humane Animal Agriculture Practices: We have animal rights activists who want to dictate animal raising practices to those of us in the livestock community.  As a lifelong rancher from a district with many, many livestock producers, I can tell you these men and women are responsible stewards of the animals in their care.  Producers I know are happy to engage in a discussion of animal welfare public policy.  However, they are not willing to have that policy dictated to them by big money lobbyists with no interest or care in the fate of animal agriculture.
Threat:  Missing Opportunities for Economic Growth.  Where are the jobs?
I’ve talked about things that are being done to farmers and ranchers.  But there’s an entire agenda that is quite frankly being ignored.  It’s a list of issues that have not been acted on by Congress or the Administration that will allow our economy to grow and prosper.  Unfortunately, Speaker Pelosi and the Obama Administration are more interested in pursuing the agenda of their liberal special interests than passing legislation that has bipartisan support and which will allow us to create jobs and grow our economy.
  • No Action on Pending FTA’s: The President acknowledges the importance of trade for creating new jobs, but has been virtually absent on the issue, which includes pushing Congress to pass the pending free trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama.  Combined, these three trade agreements are worth more than $2.6 billion in new market access for agriculture.  Each and every American can benefit from opening markets for our exports.  According to the USDA, agricultural exports support one-third of all jobs on the farm as well as two-thirds of jobs off the farm in supporting industries.  U.S. agricultural exports currently support nearly one million jobs.  We must pass these trade agreements this summer.
  • Resurrection of the Death Tax:  Furthermore, the estate tax, also known as the death tax, has been a drag on America's family-owned small businesses for decades.  The death tax expired at the end of last year, but will come back with a vengeance at the end of this year.  The House passed an inadequate extension of the death tax last year.  The exemption was too little and the rate too high.  Farmers and ranchers work their entire lives to build up land and equipment for their operations only to have the estate tax take it all away.  The estate tax needs to be eliminated once and for all. Doing so in the right way would lift a tremendous burden from America's family-owned small businesses, farms, and ranches.
Moving Forward
Time and again, the administration and the Democratic-controlled House have proven they are out of touch with farmers, ranchers, and rural communities.  If we allow these folks to have their way, it’s going to be significantly more expensive for our farmers to have the necessary tools for agriculture production.  It’s going to become increasingly more difficult for farmers to produce the same amount of product at the same high quality we have come to value.  Ultimately, this means our food costs will dramatically increase and we will become more reliant on foreign food imports.  But, worst of all, it means that the very livelihoods of our agricultural producers are put in jeopardy.
Our farmers and ranchers have been producing food and fiber for a long time.  It’s fair to say we know what we're doing.  Our success is demonstrated by the fact that such a small portion of our citizens now feed the remainder.  But the policies of this administration and the Democratic majorities in the House and Senate are overreaching and misguided and they threaten the viability of our agriculture community and our economy as a whole.