WASHINGTON, D.C. – During a Senate Agriculture Nutrition, and Forestry Subcommittee on Rural Development and Energy hearing today, Chairman Joni Ernst stressed the need to examine rural development programs and regulations to ensure they are effective and efficient.
As Chairman Ernst noted in her opening remarks, “In continuing with my commitment to bring effective oversight of programs within the federal government, and as we begin preliminary discussions about the next Farm Bill, it is imperative we look at programs under my subcommittee’s jurisdiction to ensure that Congress is being an effective steward of the taxpayer’s money and that USDA is implementing programs as we intended.”
In particular, Ernst asked the Iowa panelists whether federal regulations are impeding the development of rural areas and hampering industries that rural communities rely on, stressing “I came to the Senate committed to cutting pork and working through unnecessary and burdensome regulations, finding where we can get rid of those imposed upon our farmers and in our rural economies… What are those regulations and why do you see them as being an impediment to developing the rural areas?”
Iowa Farm Bureau Federation President, Craig Hill explained: “When EPA, an agency of government, creates the uncertainty that they have with Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS), it has been something that has just stymied and crippled our farmers.”
Click here or the image below to watch Mr. Hill’s full answer
Iowa Renewable Fuels Association Executive Director, Monte Shaw said: “The proper implementation of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) would be one area that would have a big boost.”
Click here or the image below to watch Mr. Shaw’s full answer
Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS) stated, “Rural communities are the backbone of America, which makes today’s hearing an important one as this subcommittee conducts oversight of rural development programs. I’m pleased Senator Ernst has taken such an active role in the Agriculture Committee, and I commend her leadership in tackling the tough issues facing rural America.”
Witnesses on both panels included The Honorable Lisa Mensah, Undersecretary of Rural Development for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA); Mr. Craig Hill, President of the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation; Mr. Monte Shaw, Executive Director of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association; and Mr. Chris Sommerville, President of Dakota Turbines.
SEN ERNST: Beyond my role today examining programs that are in existence through USDA Rural Development, I came to the Senate committed to cutting pork and working through unnecessary and burdensome regulations, finding where we can get rid of those imposed upon our farmers and in our rural economies. And if you could talk about any of those types of regulations, rules that exist out there that are hampering industry in our rural areas. What are those regulations and why do you see them as being an impediment to developing the rural areas?
CRAIG HILL: I think speaking for farmers in general, we have an understanding of the rules of the game: conservation compliance, a component of the Farm Bill, through crop insurance and other mechanisms to provide ourselves with, or avail ourselves with any of the programs from USDA. We want to be compliant. We understand those rules, but when EPA, an agency of government, creates the uncertainty that they have with Waters of the U.S., it has been something that has just stymied and crippled our farmers. They don’t understand the rules and they ask for help, “What is the definition of the Waters of the U.S?,” and what features on their land would be permissible or not, what is jurisdictional or not, are unanswered, and there’s not an office in Iowa that can answer those because it’s Army Corps of Engineers that would produce that answer and there’s no office in Iowa.
SEN. ERNST: Right.
CRAIG HILL: So to implement and execute upon those new rules, new definitions that have never been created before by EPA, that don’t stand up to court decisions, and defy, actually, what Congress has set out through the Clean Water Act is just a very, very difficult thing for agriculture to accept.
SEN. ERNST: And the way I understand that is the expanded definition of Waters of the U.S. would include what percent of Iowa?
CRAIG HILL: You know, most experts would declare 97% of Iowa to be jurisdictional under the new rule, tributaries being the definition that was created that expands that authority across to nearly all of Iowa. And I would make a statement that it’s very disingenuous when it’s said by agencies of government that, for example, ditches are exempt. There is no definition for a ditch. There’s only definition for tributaries, which is a bed bank high water mark, wet or dry, intermittent or perennial, man-made, man-altered or natural. Which that includes everything that conveys water, but yet it’s said that “Oh no, agriculture is exempt, ditches are exempt,” but there’s no definition for a ditch, only a tributary.
SEN. ERNST: Right.
CRAIG HILL: Those kind of things are troubling and I would ask the committee to consider what actually Congress has established in the Clean Water Act rather than this agency.
SEN. ERNST: Very good. Mr. Shaw or Mr. Sommerville, any thoughts on regulations that might be hampering industry in the rural areas?
MONTE SHAW: Well, and I won’t belabor this because you’re well aware of it, but the problem of proper implementation of the Renewable Fuel Standard would be one area that would have a big boost. And I think we’ve seen that with the data I submitted in my prepared remarks. But also, there’s S. 1239 which is a bill to equalize the summertime vapor pressures of E-10 and E-15. We need to move to use more advanced biofuels and even more traditional biofuels, we need to get to higher blends of ethanol and the largest impediment to that is, despite a lot of roadblocks thrown up by some of the oil companies, the largest impediment to that is what I think was truly an unintentional regulatory difference between how we handle E-10 and E-15, which just ties retailers hands and they can’t sell the fuel. And if we could simply make that commonsense correction, I think you would see the move to higher blends become pretty rapid if E-15 became the new normal like E-10 is now, that would be 7 billion gallons of additional biofuels. That would spur an awful lot of rural economic development.
SEN. ERNST: Very good. So not just the rules and regulations but making sure they’re being implemented correctly.
MONTE SHAW: Absolutely.