Congress must stop EPA’s vast overreach

Everyone involved in agriculture is worrying about a lot these days. In addition to delayed planting and harvesting in many parts of the country, weather-related disasters, fluctuating commodity prices and stalled trade opportunities, agriculture is also trying to come to grips with the unwarranted, aggressive regulation being proposed by the Obama administration.

If the Environmental Protection Agency has its way, farmers and ranchers alike will soon have to comply with regulation to control greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from their operations. Within the course of a few years, if the agency is not stopped, the federal government will be regulating GHG emissions on each vegetable patch, cattle ranch, forestry operation and ag-related business in America. To many this sounds ludicrous, as it should. 

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For several years, Congress has debated whether to control GHG emissions and how to design such a program. The debate heated up last year when the House of Representatives narrowly passed H.R. 2454, the American Clean Energy and Security Act, in which the House decided that an economy-wide cap-and-trade program was the way to control GHG emissions. Last fall, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works followed suit when it reported S. 1733, a similar bill known as the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act. 

I have many serious concerns with these bills. As written, they would impose significant and unjustified costs on the national economy and American families — especially families in rural America. They would also put U.S. companies and workers at a disadvantage against foreign competitors. Beyond these extreme economic consequences, I am worried that we will pay these costs for little to no environmental benefit in return. 

The harm these bills would do to American agriculture cannot be overstated. Both plans would dramatically increase energy and other input costs on farmers and food processors. According to the EPA, these bills will also drive more than 59 million acres of farmland out of food production and into trees. 

With a growing world population to feed, our farmers and ranchers will need to produce more food in the future, not less. If implemented, this legislation would only push agriculture production overseas — raising many of the same concerns that have been expressed about the loss of manufacturing jobs. Rather than driving American agriculture offshore, a more sensible approach would be to increase food, fuel and fiber production right here at home, where there is an abundant natural resource base, an economy built on open and transparent markets, and sufficient protections for consumers and the environment.

Even though I have deep concerns with the House and Senate cap-and-trade bills, I am pleased this debate is taking place in Congress, which is where I strongly believe it should occur.

I am truly appalled by EPA’s statements and actions suggesting that it can and will use the existing Clean Air Act to regulate something the statute was never intended to regulate. Even EPA recognizes that its Endangerment Finding related to GHGs triggers a cascade of regulations that will require 6 million schools, hospitals, shopping centers, small businesses and farms to get individual emission permits. As such, I am an original cosponsor of Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s (R-Alaska) resolution, S.J. Res. 26, disapproving EPA’s Endangerment Finding. If the federal government wants to control and reduce GHG emissions, then the members of Congress — Americans’ elected representatives — should create the program, not political appointees or career bureaucrats. In short, EPA has neither the authority nor the responsibility to create this program.

There are 41 senators from both sides of the aisle cosponsoring Sen. Murkowski’s resolution. And our coalition is expected to grow, thanks to the overwhelming support of over 150 agriculture groups, including: American Farm Bureau Federation, American Soybean Association, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, National Chicken Council, National Corn Growers Association, National Cotton Council, National Pork Producers Council, U.S. Rice Producers Association and USA Rice Federation.

These groups represent hundreds of thousands of stakeholders in this debate all across America. From commodities to livestock, they represent hard-working farm families who recognize that EPA’s efforts to regulate GHG emissions are nothing short of a backdoor energy tax. 

As elected officials sent to Washington to be a voice for our constituents, we should not be bullied into passing bad legislation. Nor can we remain silent when an agency is vastly overreaching. The Senate simply cannot afford to cede the responsibility and authority of this legislative body to the executive branch on an issue of this magnitude, one that could transform the American economy — including American agriculture — beyond return. I very much look forward to the debate on S.J. Res. 26 and hope to bring some common sense back this issue.  

Chambliss is the ranking Republican on the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.