An old idiom reads, “The third time is the charm,” implying that after two unsuccessful attempts, a third effort will succeed. Hopefully, the saying applies to legislation I introduced, known as the Farmers Undertake Environmental Land Stewardship (FUELS) Act, which passed for a third time by a unanimous House voice vote March 11.
The FUELS Act aims to relieve the regulatory burden placed on agricultural producers by modifying the Environmental Protection Agency’s Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure (SPCC) Rule requiring unnecessary and expensive containment structures around fuel tanks greater than 1,320 gallons. The FUELS Act extends that limit to 10,000 gallons, exempting more than three-fourths of U.S. agricultural producers from forcible SPCC compliance.
In fact, the University of Arkansas released a study saying an exemption limit of 10,000 gallons would save agricultural producers $3.36 billion nationwide in unneeded compliance costs. Arkansas alone would save $240 million. Current mandated infrastructure improvements, along with the necessary inspections and certifications from specially-licensed professional engineers, will cost individual producers tens of thousands of dollars.
A 2005 U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) study showed producers could best spend these dollars elsewhere, finding more than 99 percent of all U.S. farms have never had a spill incident. EPA jumped on-board with USDA the following year, citing the 10,000 gallon limit as a comfortable threshold for fuel tanks without containment structures. Yet, a few years later, EPA inexplicably reduced that limit more than 85 percent to 1,320 gallons.
The FUELS Act aligns with original EPA guidelines, but the agency has proven content to change rules unless given specific directives. The Act has gained the support of more than 30 producer organizations—including every major farm group—and has garnered a bipartisan list of 73 co-sponsors within the House.
Sadly, following the first two passages in the House, the Senate has allowed a vocal minority of extremists to keep the bill off the President’s desk. While these extremists attempt to present themselves as “environmentalists,” farmers—by nature of their occupation—are the best environmentalists. They serve as careful stewards because they derive their livelihoods from the land housing their crops and livestock.
Should the Senate continue to neglect my legislation, producers will face an ultimatum: Pay to build and maintain berms around their tanks, or they can’t house fuel on their farms.
In turn, these compliance costs will get passed on to consumers through higher prices for grocery store items, such as bread, milk, meat, and eggs.
Unnecessary regulations don’t benefit the environment. They stifle job growth and raise prices for goods and services.
Our farmers deserve better. We deserve better.