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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Environmental Regulation and Agriculture

Megan Stubbs, Coordinator
Analyst in Agricultural Conservation and Natural Resources Policy

Some in Congress have expressed concern about recent environmental regulations and administrative initiatives. Criticism from lawmakers and industry leaders is primarily focused on environmental regulations promulgated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Some claim that EPA is overreaching its regulatory authority in several environmental arenas. The agriculture community has been vocal in its concerns, contending that EPA appears to be focusing its regulatory efforts on agriculture. Environmentalists, on the other hand, are encouraged by some of EPAs regulatory efforts, claiming that some agriculture operations do pose a public health and environmental risk and should be regulated.

A healthy agriculture industry and a healthy environment are both important to the nation. However, agricultural production can have varying impacts on the environment. The use of both natural resources and synthetic inputs in agricultural production can sometimes create a negative impact on human health and the surrounding ecosystem. The magnitude of these environmental impacts varies widely across the country and changes over time. Given the agricultural sector’s size and potential to affect its surrounding environment, there is interest in tightening environmental policies while also maintaining an economically viable industry. Most recognize the agriculture community’s efforts to protect natural resources while striving to maintain a sustainable and abundant food supply.

The current federal response to environmental issues associated with agriculture is viewed as being both restrictive and supportive. Traditionally, most farm and ranch operations have been exempt or excluded from many environmental regulations. The challenges associated with regulating numerous crop and livestock operations can be cost-prohibitive for government regulators, and environmental policies have historically focused on large industrial sources such as factories and power plants. Therefore, much of the current farm policy addressing environmental concerns is in the form of economic incentives to encourage beneficial production practices.

Recent regulatory activity has generated widespread interest in the depth of EPA’s regulatory authority. The 112
th Congress continues to evaluate EPA and other federal agencies’ roles in regulating environmental protection. Other broad options for Congress besides general oversight include review under the Congressional Review Act, amending current law to modify a regulating agency’s authority, introducing freestanding legislation, or offering an amendment on an agency’s appropriation bill that prevents funds from being used for specific actions.

This report covers select environmental regulations that could affect agriculture. The majority of environmental regulations are administered by EPA, though not all. In some cases, agriculture is the direct or primary focus of the regulatory actions. In other cases, the agriculture sector is one of many affected sectors. Of particular interest to the sector are regulatory actions affecting air, water, energy, and chemicals. Issues associated with air (e.g., dust and emissions) and water resources (e.g., fertilizer and nutrient run-off) are a primary focus of many regulations affecting agriculture because of agriculture’s potential impact to both. Changes in energy policy, namely bioenergy, have recently become important to many in the agricultural industry based on the growing influence of corn-based biofuel production. Finally, the risks associated with agricultural chemical use and possible impacts on human health and the environment have led to recent federal regulatory reviews of chemical fertilizer and pesticide use.

Date of Report: March 25, 2011
Number of Pages: 43
Order Number: R41622
Price: $29.95

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