The ushering in of the Trump administration back in 2017 launched large-scale deregulation at the federal level, including agriculture.
Just a week in office, President Joe Biden already has announced a review of a number of federal regulations, including Trump’s Navigable Waters Protection Rule, changes made to the Endangered Species Act, National Ambient Air Quality standards for particulate matter, Agricultural Worker Protection Standard, and action to keep chlorpyrifos-based pesticides on the market despite pushback from environmentalists.
In an executive order signed Wednesday to deal with climate change, the White House noted that among the first actions Biden took in office was an “immediate review of harmful rollbacks of standards that protect our air, water, and communities.”
When it comes to the regulation of water on farms and ranches, the pendulum has swung back and forth since 2015 when the Obama-era waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule drew pushback from states, farmers and ranchers and other industries across the country. The rule was seen as a federal overreach and sparked concerns about private property rights.
Environmental, conservation and other interests supported WOTUS because it expanded the number of water bodies covered by the Clean Water Act.
During his first days in office, Trump ordered EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to repeal and replace the 2015 rule. Trump’s EPA replaced WOTUS with the Navigable Waters Protection Rule, designed to simplify questions of Clean Water Act jurisdiction. The Trump EPA narrowed federal authority to four specific categories of waterways.
Under the new rule, traditional regulated bodies such as territorial seas and major rivers fall under federal rules, as well as “perennial and intermittent tributaries” and certain lakes and ponds and impoundments that contribute to the flow of a navigable waterway, along with wetlands “adjacent to jurisdictional waters.” The new rule, which faces its own legal challenges, leaves oversight for other bodies of water to states and tribes.
On Wednesday, a group of 26 Republican senators announced the drafting of a resolution to support the Navigable Waters Protection Rule. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, said the Biden administration “is working at a rapid pace” to undue the Trump rule.
“Everyone should agree that clean water should be a national priority,” Ernst said. “But I can’t stand by and allow for another Washington power grab that will make it harder for Iowans to farm, ranch, and build.”
See the resolution here.
The Biden EPA also will review the EPA’s 2019 decision not to ban the use of chlorpyrifos, which has been linked to brain injury and banned in many other countries and even certain American states, such as California.
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The insecticide, known best in agriculture under Corteva’s former brand name, Lorsban, targets a range of sucking, biting and chewing insects and is registered for use in a wide variety of crops, including corn, alfalfa, sugar beets, cotton, wheat, soybeans and peanuts.
In 2015, EPA was poised to revoke all food residue tolerances for the chemical, effectively ending its legal use in the U.S. But former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt reversed that decision in 2019. Since then, the agency has been forging ahead with a re-registration review, despite chlorpyrifos’s primary registrant, Corteva, announcing it would stop producing the insecticide in 2020.
Most recently, the agency released an interim registration decision for the chemical. See more here.
ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT
For decades, attempts to reform the Endangered Species Act had been met with resistance in Congress and from environmental interests. Many agriculture interests have decried the ESA as ineffective despite stringent regulation on farmers and ranchers.
In August 2019, the Trump administration finalized three rules to change the law.
Most notably, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed its blanket rule in the ESA that automatically grants the same protections for threatened species that are available for endangered species.
The final rules do not affect protections for species currently listed as threatened but instead will receive protections tailored to species’ individual conservation needs.
As of July 2016, 34 of 1,596 listed species were delisted because of recovery, or a success rate of 2.1%, according to USFWS. About 75% of listed species use private land as habitat.
AGRICULTURAL WORKER PROTECTION STANDARD
In October 2020, the EPA finalized changes to application exclusion zones when it comes to applying pesticides, designed to protect agriculture workers from exposure in the field.
Most notably, AEZ requirements in the worker protection safety rule are designed to keep agriculture workers away from areas on farms where pesticides are being applied. The rule requires ag workers to not be within either 25 feet or 100 feet from where pesticides are being applied.
Pesticide applicators are required to shut down spraying when someone enters exclusion zones.
The previous rule required farm workers to take steps to protect themselves from pesticides even after they left the farm. The new rule removed those provisions.
NATIONAL ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY ACT
The Trump administration made a number of changes to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), designed to streamline the process for farmers and ranchers who seek renewal of term grazing permits, want to conduct range improvements and to be involved in USDA programs.
The U.S. Department of Interior rule shortened the time for seeking approval of infrastructure and other projects under the auspices of NEPA.
In particular, the Trump administration established time limits of two years for completion of environmental impact statements and one year for completion of environmental assessments.
The previous NEPA had average wait times for approval of four to five years.
The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, Public Lands Council and the Family Farm Alliance expressed support for the proposal. The previous NEPA process was said to have harmed producers wanting to improve water resources in dry regions of the country.
NAAQ STANDARDS ON PARTICULATE MATTER
In 2018, the Trump administration announced intentions to reform the national ambient air quality standards in the Clean Air Act, or NAAQ.
In December 2020, the administration instead left in place the Obama administration change.
In 2015, EPA tightened the ozone standards of particulate matter from 75 parts per billion (ppb) to 70 ppb. That action was of particular concern to farmers and ranchers who already operate in regions of the country that struggle to meet national ambient air quality standards for ozone.
Many of those producers have had to work to reduce dust pollution on their farms as part of plans in place in what are called “non-attainment areas.”
Agriculture groups cried foul at the notion the federal government could regulate farm dust — an idea that became a rallying cry for those who believed the agency was taking an overly zealous regulatory approach.
The standards have been a headache for farmers and ranchers in some regions of the country, particularly in the Southwest.
DTN Staff Reporter Emily Unglesbee contributed to this story.
Todd Neeley can be reached at email@example.com
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