No, protecting farmers’ rights does not mean stripping yours

No, protecting farmers’ rights does not mean stripping yours
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House Republicans are once again being painted as villains and critics have issued stark warnings about citizens denied access to the courts. There is just one problem: These charges are not grounded in fact. 

At issue is the Farm Regulatory Certainty Act, a bill with bipartisan support that seeks to reduce regulatory confusion and protect farmers and ranchers from vigilante justice. Reps. Dan NewhouseDaniel (Dan) Milton NewhouseNo, protecting farmers’ rights does not mean stripping yours 34 House Republicans demand DACA action this year The GOP’s dirty attack on rural America’s clean water MORE (R-Wash.) and Jim CostaJames (Jim) Manuel CostaNo, protecting farmers’ rights does not mean stripping yours Overnight Finance: Consumer chief Cordray resigning | GOP makes changes to Senate tax bill | Johnson becomes first senator opposed to tax bill | Mnuchin, Linton catch flak for photos holding sheets of money Blue Dogs oppose GOP tax package MORE (D-Calif.) are leading the reform effort, and for good reason. They know the consequences of a litigation nightmare that happened in Newhouse’s own backyard.

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After agreeing to a suite of corrective actions with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), four dairy producers in Washington state were sued by activists under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). The lawsuit targeted the dairies for the exact same issue covered by the EPA agreement, needlessly costing them millions of dollars.

 

The Farm Regulatory Certainty Act would close this dangerous loophole in our enforcement system. Specifically, it would prevent third-party lawsuits if the producer is already subject to an enforcement action or administrative proceeding with a federal or state government.

The legal nonprofit group Public Justice alleges that closing this loophole would deny private citizens and communities their right to take legal action. That is simply not true. Fear mongering is great for whipping up supporters and soliciting donations, but it is hardly a recipe for an effective regulatory system.

Nothing in the bill would remove the citizen lawsuit provision from RCRA. Farms and ranches that flout the law can and should be held accountable. The legislation appropriately protects producers from superfluous litigation when they have agreed to work with federal and state officials to resolve the environmental issue in question.  

Farmers and ranchers care deeply about the environment. After all, they depend on the land and natural resources for their livelihoods. But years of mistrust often make these same producers skeptical of regulatory agencies.

Their concerns are not unfounded. Farmers and ranchers like Andy Johnson, who faced $16 million in fines for building a stock pond on his property, have often been victims of the federal government’s heavy-handed enforcement actions. The current climate is driving another wedge between producers and the government. What producer would willingly partner with a regulatory agency when doing so will leave them vulnerable to a costly lawsuit that could drive them out of business?

All stakeholders share a common goal of protecting natural resources and reducing environmental footprints. The Farm Regulatory Certainty Act would foster greater collaboration and partnership, where producers can work with regulators without fear of retribution from vigilante activists.  

It is not difficult to see why organizations that make a living exploiting our legal system to attack agricultural producers would be in favor of the status quo. The current landscape gives them free reign to circumvent federal and state regulatory agencies for their own benefit. In the Washington state case, the same dairies that were cooperating with the government were forced to shell out millions in legal fees to defend themselves. 

Far from a Republican plot, the Farm Regulatory and Certainty Act is a common-sense bill that has garnered bipartisan support, including 10 Democratic co-sponsors. Passing this critical legislation will ensure that farmers and ranchers can partner with the government on environmental issues in good faith.

Scott Yager is the chief environmental counsel for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.