Proposed EPA Expansion Illustrates Need for Statutory Reform, Lucas SaysWed, 26 Mar 2014 12:40:48 CDT
Yesterday's proposal by the EPA to redefine the waters covered by the Clean Water Act has prompted indignant reactions from landowners and politicians alike. In a wide-ranging interview with Frank Lucas, Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, Radio Oklahoma's Ron Hays touched and on that issue and many more. (You can hear that conversation by clicking on the LISTEN BAR at the bottom of this story.)
Some lawmakers have called yesterday's EPA proposal an attempt by the agency to massively increase its authority to regulate even the smallest bodies of water including drainage ditches and rain puddles. Lucas said it is emblematic of other regulatory actions taken by the Obama administration.
"Let me just simply say that this is another example of why we need to reform the statutes that deal with clean water, the endangered species act, there are a number of things out there that since their passage through rules and regulations and interpretation by various bureaucrats in the executive branch have taken on a life all on their own. While the particulars in this case, I don't think, are dramatically different than some other things in a lot of cases, it just means we need to do something about these old statutes that were not intended to take away control of peoples' property rights and their ability to make a living or to enjoy their property."
Lucas said yesterday's announcement should not have come as a surprise to anyone given the statements made by the President in the past, but it does not make the proposal any more palatable.
"The President has said repeatedly over the course of the last year and a half that if he couldn't get Congress to do what he wants Congress to do, then he would use executive authority, he would use instructions to his staff in the entire executive branch, in effect, to do what he wanted to do. That is so contrary to the Constitution. The Constitution says the Congress shall pass laws. The President can either veto or sign them. If Congress determines they want to override by two-thirds, then the law still becomes law. But the bottom line is this: the President doesn't write the laws, under the Constitution the Congress does. The President is supposed to administer the laws. This is another example, some people say, of the President trying to rule by decree through the bureaucracy and that's just wrong."
Along the lines of stifling bureaucratic regulations, Lucas said there will be committee hearings in the late spring or early summer over the unpopular rules affecting livestock producers and packers that some hoped would be addressed by the farm bill. When opposition from Senate Democrats made it impossible to deal with COOL and GIPSA and still pass a farm bill, action was deferred. Lucas said that the appropriations process may put the brakes on GIPSA, but that the livestock industry would need to come together more cohesively to help craft a workable proposal for COOL.
"We have some struggles within the ag community to address. We'll do our legislative hearings. And some things, if they can't be done in regular legislative order, may well, as they have been in the past, be addressed in the 'ag appropes' bill, the bill that funds the USDA for the coming year."
Under the new farm law, Lucas said the USDA is moving aggressively on the disaster issues. He said with large portions of the Southern Plains moving back in to drought, he agrees with the USDA's early focus on those programs. At the same time, they have been moving forward with the necessary rulemaking for the other parts of the farm bill, it will just take some time before it will be implemented.
As the appropriations process rolls around, Lucas said there are some mumblings that challenges might be mounted to the crop insurance portion of the bill. He said he has yet to see an appropriations bill in his time in Congress that has not included an amendment to lower the overall appropriation for crop insurance or to reduce or restrict coverage.
"It's my hope that we fought those battles in the farm bill process to a sufficient degree that we brought the membership up to speed that we can turn those things back. Just because we have had some expensive years in crop insurance over the last few years because of phenomenal droughts in the Midwest in 2012 and phenomenal droughts in '11 and '12 in much-depending on the crop you're in-of Oklahoma in '13, that's what crop insurance is for. Like any form of insurance, in the good times it doesn't pay anything out. In the bad times, when producers need it the worst, is when you make the payments. So, we'll be attacked for the cost of the programs, but the fact of the matter is, they're simply working. They are delivering the resources when Mother Nature dictates that we need help out there."
Lucas said he anticipates wheat farmers will be done with harvest well before sign up for PLC, ARC and the options in crop insurance, but that is not an unusual occurrence for farmers when new farm bills are implemented. He said he hopes that as the USDA work on implementation progresses, that information will be passed on to producers so they can anticipate their choices before the sign-up period opens.
The next big item on his committee's agenda is the reauthorization bill for the Commodities Futures Trading Commission. Lucas said that will likely be taken up in April. He said he hopes to make some corrections that are long overdue since the passage of the Dodd-Frank bill regulating the finance industry.
Lucas also said that yesterday's dedication of a statue to Norman Borlaug, acknowledged by many as the father of the "Green Revolution," is altogether fitting and should remind us of the necessity to continue funding for agricultural research through the nation's system of land grant colleges and universities.
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