Give EPA Same Scrutiny As Defense Department

Nebraska Notebook

EPA has been a bull-in-the-China shop, wreaking havoc on agriculture and other industries with regulation after new regulation.

Published on: April 15, 2013

Since Chuck Hagel, former U.S. senator from Nebraska, was approved as the nation's defense secretary, he, along with the backing of the Obama Administration, has been trimming the defense budget and proposing realigning priorities and strategies for a future, supposedly leaner military.

Perhaps some changes are needed, but it makes one wonder about the national security of our nation at a time of rising tensions in the Middle East, the unstable situation in North Korea and the Chinese buildup of its military forces.

The point to be made here, however, is how easy it seems for this administration and Congress to scrutinize and cut defense spending and tie it to the "sequester" cuts, but it's hands-off for the Environmental Protection Agency. In a time of huge budget deficits, why isn't same scrutiny applied to bloated federal agencies such as EPA? EPA has been a bull-in-the-China shop, wreaking havoc on agriculture and other industries with regulation after new regulation.

EPA has fostered fear in Nebraska agriculture by its flyovers of feedlots the past two years. It's one thing for the agency respond to a citizen's complaint and then visit the livestock operation for a review. It's entirely another thing for your federal government to spy on producers from air.

The agency's latest assault will expose owners of livestock facilities to potential lawsuits from environmental organization such as the Natural Resources Defense Council, Earth Justice and the Pew Charitable Trusts. Those are the three organizations to which EPA delivered personal information on livestock confinement operations, under the Freedom of Information Act.

EPA apparently now wants that information returned, a decision made because of what it called "privacy concerns." Trouble is the cat is out of the bag. Don't bet on the information on "names, addresses and phone numbers" being relinquished by the activist groups.

U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., and several Senate colleagues raised those concerns and have been demanding answers from EPA on why this information was released and what steps the agency is taking to investigate privacy concerns.

Chuck Folken, feedlot owner from Leigh and past president of the Nebraska Cattlemen, says it best about EPA's attitude toward agriculture: "As a cattle feeder from Nebraska I have been well-versed over the past years about environmental regulations. I take great pride in the practices I've put in place to protect the environment, as well as the fact that what I do every day helps feed my family and yours. What discourages me is the constant berating beef feedlots like mine must endure by environmental organizations who know little about my farm." 

I've been to many EPA regional meetings through the years where the intent was to "educate" producers on its regulations. When government says it's "educating" someone, it usually means "this is what we're going to do," regardless of the input provided.

It's also another example how the current administration professes to be about job creation, even as the unemployment rate stays above 7.5%. It's actually much worse when considering those who are without work and now not even trying. In reality, the constant bashing of the private sector and the push for higher taxes plays a significant role in the high unemployment figures. Obama's answer is always to add more government employment employees.

It's ironic that as I wrote this, the Wisconsin-based Sand County Foundation, along with the Nebraska Cattlemen, is sponsoring a two-day gathering in Lincoln in July to recognize cattle operations who are leading environmental stewards. Sand County Foundation works with sponsoring organizations in eight states to honor cattle producers each year. Past winners in those states and from Nebraska are invited to Lincoln to share their stewardship stories.

Government works the best out here in the country when it offers cost-sharing programs as incentive. That approach, and not the heavy regulatory hand of government, puts conservation on the land.