AFBF keeps tabs, urges sound policy on national ag industry topics
With approximately 80 new members in the U.S. House of Representatives, that means one in five members will soon change, and that creates an educational opportunity for the ag industry, says American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) President Bob Stallman.
Stallman, a cattle producer from Texas, has led the national organization since 2000.
“Almost all of the new members of Congress don’t really know anything about the issues that affect agriculture, and their staffs also won’t know the issues,” says Stallman. “We have an obligation and a responsibility to spend a lot of time educating the new members.”
Stallman says more than half of the House Ag Committee lost their bids for reelection. “Most were Democrats that have been our friends on a lot of issues, so what does that mean for the make-up of the new House Ag Committee? We won’t have the rural, moderate Democrats. Instead, we might have individuals who represent urban areas, and they may be more interested in nutrition programs or environmental focuses. We don’t know yet.”
In tax, regulatory and trade issues, Stallman says the new Republican-controlled House will be closer to Wyoming priorities, with a shift to a small business perspective.
“I’ve always said that farmers and ranchers are small business. They’re talking about us, too,” he says.
“We are not in a good place,” says Stallman of national debt and spending. “It’s doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure it out. All of us, as farmers and ranchers, know the same thing my grandfather taught me: When your outgo exceeds your income, your upkeep will be your downfall. If we don’t get our fiscal house in order ourselves internally, it will be put in order externally. We have a huge challenge, and we have a responsibility as an organization to help meet that challenge.”
As part of that responsibility, Stallman said even organizations like AFBF must prioritize their policy to fix the fiscal mess. “Cutting spending has to be part of it. In the campaign speeches, for the most part, no candidate would mention where they would make the cuts, and right now neither party is willing to step up and say where they’re willing to face the pain and make the cuts. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us to fix that problem.”
“We as an organization do everything we can to create bipartisanship, and we’ll continue to do that. We will pursue the same issues in 112th Congress that we’ve pursued in 111th. The next farm bill is coming up, and the timing will be different with the recent election,” says Stallman, noting the farm bill will probably be passed in 2012 instead of 2011.
“The challenge is to try to think about the future of agriculture. We’ll have less money to apply to farm programs, and we’ll have to figure out how to use the resources we have to create something for the future that’s effective and fiscally responsible,” he notes, pointing out that 70 percent of the farm bill is dedicated to nutrition programs. “It’s unlikely the big cuts will be made in nutrition programs, which leaves the other 30 percent subject to the cuts.”
However important the farm bill is, Stallman says he thinks environmental and regulatory issues have more affect on U.S. agriculture. “In general, this administration has had the attitude that if a little regulation is good, then a lot is a whole lot better, and unfortunately they’ve been pursuing that.”
“Our environmental opponents have used the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act and the Endangered Species Act as their weapons of choice in pursuing their agenda in the courthouse,” says Stallman. “That legislation has allowed them to have a whole lot more control over the things you and I do than they ought to have.”
Stallman says the Clean Water Act is a prime example. “Forty years ago it was passed with the wonderful goal of cleaning up some real messes in this country. The word ‘navigable’ is in the law over 80 times, and that’s the scope of the Clean Water Act. To me, ‘navigable’ means you ought to be able to float a boat, and go somewhere in that boat. Two Supreme Court rulings have agreed with that, and it’s limited the scope of the Clean Water Act.”
Stallman says the efforts by environmentalists to delete ‘navigable’ have most likely ended, with the shift in the House.
Regarding the Endangered Species Act, Stallman says it was passed with the best of intentions. “We all know which road is paved with good intentions,” he says. “Unfortunately, it hasn’t met its original goal of species recovery. Less than one percent of 1,300 species have been recovered with an annual cost of over $3 billion. In a business world, you would have been bankrupt a long time ago with performance standards like that.”
Stallman says the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been very busy lately. “I characterize it as the EPA running amok,” he notes. “Their budget has increased to $10 billion annually, and they employ 17,000 people. We have more pressure than we’ve ever faced from the EPA, and we hope the new Congress will find a way to reign in the overreaching of EPA.”
He says the only way that will happen is to put riders on bills to delay the implementation of some of the regulations. “That will be a difficult fight, as we have a lot of Republican friends who, when it comes to environmental issues, won’t stand up and support us.”
Of the cap and tax legislation, Stallman says it’s been stopped in the Senate. “I think it’s dead. We may get overrun, but no one will sneak up on us, so we’ll keep watching it.”
“We still need comprehensive energy legislation geared toward filling as many of the energy needs as we can from this country, and not excluding any particular sector. We have huge natural gas reserves, and areas we haven’t even drilled. We have the opportunity to meet our needs if we put the policies in place to do it,” he adds.
Even though the cap and tax is dead, the EPA is still pursuing regulation of stationary sources of greenhouse gases. “They couldn’t pass a law legislatively, but this administration is pursuing another path to control greenhouse gases. It’s not initially applied to agriculture, but it will be expanded through livestock production in particular, and our estimate is that 90 percent of livestock operations will come under the thresholds that exist today,” he explains. “That smell of money – the smell of methane – that we’ve smelled all these years is, in some people’s estimation, the worst greenhouse gas.”
In addition to those red-letter topics, Stallman says AFBF is also keeping tabs on estate taxes, federal lands grazing, the GIPSA rule and animal rights.