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Newhouse Requests Hearing on Bipartisan Legislation to Provide Regulatory Certainty for Farms

October 24, 2017
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Representative Dan Newhouse (R-WA) today requested a legislative hearing in a letter to House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) and Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL), Chairman of House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on the Environment, on H.R. 848, the Farm Regulatory Certainty Act. Rep. Newhouse introduced the bipartisan legislation earlier this year. H.R. 848 reaffirms and clarifies Congress’ intent regarding the inappropriateness of subjecting agricultural operation nutrient management activities under the Resources Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976 (RCRA). The legislation will offer increased protection for individuals diligently seeking to treat identified issues, and prevent farmers from being targeted twice if they are already engaged in legal action or are making a diligent attempt to work with the state or federal government to address issues.

“While I agree there are a number of statutes that do govern agricultural nutrient management practices, Congress never intended for RCRA to be one of those statutes,” said Rep. Newhouse in the letter. “Moreover, the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulations confirm that agricultural wastes, such as manures and crop residues, were not intended to be governed under RCRA.”

Rep. Newhouse continued in the letter: “This commonsense legislation would clarify Congressional intent on this statute, work to restore a relationship of trust and confidence between farmers and regulators, and would prevent farmers who are already engaged in legal action who are diligently working with the state or federal government to address nutrient management issues from being targeted by citizen suits.”

The Farm Regulatory Certainty Act would:

  • Reaffirm and clarify congressional intent regarding the inappropriateness of subjecting agricultural nutrients to RCRA.
  • Prevent farmers who are already engaged in legal action or are making a diligent attempt to work with the state or federal government to address nutrient management issues from being targeted by citizen suits.

The Farm Regulatory Certainty Act would not:

  • Prevent the EPA from enforcing current regulations under the Safe Water Drinking Act, the Clean Water Act, or any other applicable law.
  • Exempt livestock producers from any laws or regulations intended to govern agricultural operations.

Background:

In early 2015, a federal judge in Washington State erroneously ruled against several dairy farmers that nitrates found in groundwater – commonly a byproduct of manure and fertilizers – were a “solid waste” under the Resources Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), and that high water nitrate levels constituted “open dumping”. While farmers are subject to numerous water statutes, this misguided judicial decision unfortunately neglects the fact that RCRA – a law intended to govern safe disposal of solid wastes in sanitary landfills – was never intended to regulate agricultural operation nutrient management activities. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) original 1979 RCRA regulations include exceptions for agricultural byproducts returned to the soil as nutrients. This decision places our entire agricultural community in a gray area of legal uncertainty. Farmers are now uncertain which statutes govern their nutrient management activities, and are open to increased liability from RCRA citizen suits based on undefined standards. Moreover, in the Washington State case, the farmers being sued under RCRA were working with EPA to address nutrient management issues prior to the citizen suit being filed. This inappropriate application of RCRA puts farmers on the defensive, and discourages proactive, voluntary stewardship of their land and water.

Click here or see below for the text of the letter to Chairman Walden and Rep. Shimkus.

October 24, 2017

 

The Honorable Greg Walden

Chairman

Committee on Energy and Commerce

2125 Rayburn House Office Building

Washington, D.C. 20515

The Honorable John Shimkus

Chairman

Subcommittee on the Environment

2125 Rayburn House Office building

Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Chairman Walden and Chairman Shimkus:

I am writing to request that the House Energy and Commerce Committee hold a legislative hearing on my legislation, H.R. 848, the Farm Regulatory Certainty Act, which your committee holds jurisdiction. This important piece of legislation would clarify and reaffirm that the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) was not intended to govern agricultural nutrient management activities.

In 2015, a federal judge ruled in a citizen suit that dissolved manure nitrates constitute a “solid waste” under RCRA, and held four Washington State dairies culpable of “open dumping” due to their nutrient management practices. As a farmer myself, I firmly believe farmers have and must continue to lead the charge on good stewardship and conservation.

This 2015 misguided ruling has placed farmers across the country in a legal gray area. It is unfair for agricultural nutrients to be exempt from law, then have a court find farmers at fault for non-compliance with the very law they are exempt from. Farmers need certainty to what rules apply to them.

While I agree there are a number of statutes that do govern agricultural nutrient management practices, Congress never intended for RCRA to be one of those statutes. Moreover, the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulations confirm that agricultural wastes, such as manures and crop residues, were not intended to be governed under RCRA.

This commonsense legislation would clarify Congressional intent on this statute, work to restore a relationship of trust and confidence between farmers and regulators, and would prevent farmers who are already engaged in legal action who are diligently working with the state or federal government to address nutrient management issues from being targeted by citizen suits.

We want to continue to encourage farmers to be good stewards, and create an environment where farmers feel comfortable working with state and federal regulatory agencies to address stewardship issues.

I look forward to working with you on this legislation and thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

 

Dan Newhouse

Member of Congress