U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford (AR-1) recently held his annual August Farm Tour, with the Congressman addressing federal regulations affecting Arkansas’ First District agricultural producers and the 2014 farm bill implementation.
Throughout the tour, Congressman Crawford made stops in Arkansas, Craighead, Crittenden, Independence, Izard, Lawrence, Lee, Prairie, and Randolph Counties. Crawford said producers should take note of two pending environmental regulations, including the Environmental Protection Agency’s “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) rule and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Critical Habitat Designations (CHDs) for two mussel species — the Neosho Mucket and the Rabbitsfoot.
“EPA’s ‘Waters of the U.S.’ rule and Fish and Wildlife’s Critical Habitat Designations have the potential to seriously harm First District agricultural production,” Crawford said. “Both rules provide classic examples of the federal government using overly aggressive behavior to extend its reach.”
Crawford said EPA’s WOTUS rule aims to expand the scope of the Clean Water Act, extending the agency’s authority to include small rivers, streams, and ponds.
“According to the rule, waters that ‘have a significant nexus’ to already regulated waters face subjection to EPA’s authority,” Crawford said. “Time and again, the rule has shown significant ambiguity in its wording, likely resulting in the regulation of bodies of water that currently are not — such as rice fields and agricultural retention ponds.”
Crawford said he’s signed on as original cosponsor of legislation addressing EPA’s overreach with the introduction of H.R. 5078, the Waters of the United States Regulatory Overreach Protection Act of 2014.
“In a short period of time, the bill has garnered 120 cosponsors in the House to prevent EPA from expanding how it regulates water under the Clean Water Act,” Crawford said. “We’ve even seen companion legislation in the Senate, so I’m hopeful we place this legislation on the President’s desk as quickly as possible.”
Crawford said just like EPA has attempted to expand its authority using the Clean Water Act, FWS has done the same using CHDs for two mussel species. Together, CHDs for the Neosho Mucket and Rabbitsfoot mussels affect nearly 770 Arkansas river miles covering 31 counties, according to the Association of Arkansas Counties (AAC). If fully implemented, they would affect nearly 42 percent of the state’s geographical area.
“These Critical Habitat Designations could have far-reaching impacts across our state,” Crawford said. “With nearly 770 river miles in the state affected, Arkansas’ agricultural producers — who rely heavily upon our state’s water resources — should loudly voice their concerns.”
Crawford said he desires for federal agencies to use “common sense” before implementing a CHD. He introduced H.R. 4319 in March, the Common Sense in Species Protection Act of 2014, to combat this issue. His bill would amend the Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973, requiring government agencies in charge of determining a CHD — such as FWS — to perform a true analysis of how a designation will affect an area’s lives and livelihoods. FWS currently only uses a cumulative approach, which Crawford said cannot prevent an agency overreach for landowners.
“For too long, FWS officials have ignored the impacts to local and regional economies,” Crawford said. “The Common Sense in Species Protection Act requires a true economic impact study on a proposed area before any private or public property is put in a Critical Habitat Designation. Arkansans have seen time and again that these overreaches are nothing short of onerous.”
In addition to environmental regulations facing producers, Congressman Crawford also addressed implementation of the 2014 farm bill. He described the 2014 legislation as the most complex bill yet.
“I’ve been saying it for quite a while, but I keep encouraging producers to remain patient with their county FSA offices,” Crawford said. “FSA just received the legislation in February, and it’s dealing with the most complex farm bill ever handed to it. So, as USDA continues to write regulations for the farm bill, just keep that thought in mind when you speak to your local officials.”
While Congressman Crawford acknowledged his desire to inform growers of these regulatory and legislative issues affecting agricultural production, he said he gets more out of his annual August Farm Tour than the growers he meets. Crawford described the tour as a highlight of each Congressional August Recess.
“We have more than 14,000 farms operated by about 22,000 growers in the First District,” Crawford said. “Combined, they sell about $5 billion in products harvested and raised on nearly eight million acres, making agriculture our district’s number one industry. It’s truly an honor and privilege for me to devote several days to the men and women who produce the food and fiber upon which we rely daily.”