It literally would take an army to cover every meeting and initiative produced at the Cattle Industry National Convention held in Phoenix last week. I generally pay attention to policy issues in Washington, D.C., and on public lands. We were very pleased to learn the Jim O’Haco Cattle Company from Winslow, AZ, won the National Environmental Stewardship award.
Two urgent issues were the electronic logging devices required by the Department of Transportation (DOT) that only allow truck operators to drive for a specific amount of time. Drive time is counted by the time the engine is running; not how long the wheels are turning. Everybody knows that once you get a load of cattle on a truck and moving that you finish the trip. Loading and unloading cattle trucks for a trip from California to Nebraska is not feasible or humane.
The ag industry is attempting to get an ag exemption from the DOT; we are currently under a stay order from the court, pending clarification, which could come this week. This is a huge issue for anyone hauling livestock or any perishable products. It’s a prime example of a federal solution where one regulation doesn’t fit all aspects of the regulated.
It was also announced that Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) lifted his hold on our friend, Gregg Doud, to be confirmed as the chief ag negotiator for the U.S. Doud was nominated last June but the process was held up solely by Flake, who is not running for another term because he is expected to lose in the primary election. Vegetable importers and growers were up in arms over imports, many of which come in through Arizona. And I’ll tell you, I’m good with enjoying avocados year ’round.
The Public Lands meeting was interrupted to announce that Humane Society of the U.S. CEO Wayne Pacelle was forced to resign from the organization after sexual harassment allegations were made against him. Apparently, he resisted the dismissal, but seven other members of the board resigned to force his resignation. We all like hearing about the demise of our anti-animal agriculture foes. It just shows us that there are no saints in this political world we live in.
Another huge issue requiring immediate attention is the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), a law made during the Bush administration to provide for cleanup of the worst environmental toxic waste dumps, ie., chemical accidents, like when a Texas fertilizer plant blew up a short time back. Ag has always been exempted from the law.
Water Keeper Alliance and other enviro-litigator groups took the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to court, saying that all toxic chemical emitters must comply and report their emissions on a regular basis to the U.S. Coast Guard. Go figure. Water Keeper and their cohorts won the suit in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals and now ag must comply. Ag received a stay on Jan. 22, but reporting must start May 1. The irony is that none of the agencies that would normally handle chemical spills want to deal with the ag component.
When it comes to confined feeding operations, estimating emissions is easy. There have been formulas developed by several ag universities to estimate livestock emissions, and that sector has been doing it for a while. The real wildcard is that pasture and range operations must report as well. Everyone is trying to figure out how to determine if they emit 100 lbs. of toxic emissions per day on a range operation. So, if you run 400 cows on 30 sections of ground, you need to figure out if you need to report. EPA has put some compliance tools on their website to help. But, EPA is skeptical about the rule as well.
Long story short is that the rule must go, and needs a legislative fix. The current law is loosely defined even though it was never intended for ag. This is an issue worthy of getting involved with. It’s just one more stupid regulation that the environmental lobby forced EPA into through the courts.
However, there is language in the current budget appropriations bill, expected to pass after we go to press on Thursday Feb. 8, that will give the industry temporary relief. In other words, kick the can down the road. As I write this, it looks as if it will pass.
There was much more that the NCBA’s D.C. staff was directed to do. They will be very busy working to guide regulations and thwart bad laws. And they are getting quite a bit done in the narrow window of opportunity we have. — PETE CROW