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Published March 11, 2011, 03:48 PM

Peterson criticizes EPA processes

WASHINGTON — House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., added a new twist to criticism of the Environmental Protection Agency March 8, telling EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson that the agency has been too quick to settle lawsuits.

By: Jerry Hagstrom, Special to Agweek

WASHINGTON — House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., added a new twist to criticism of the Environmental Protection Agency March 8, telling EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson that the agency has been too quick to settle lawsuits.

“I keep hearing that EPA is only doing what the courts are telling them to do, and I see that in some lawsuits,” Peterson said in prepared opening remarks at an EPA oversight hearing.

“The problem is that many cases aren’t litigated to the point where a court makes a ruling,” he said. “Instead, there seems to be a pattern of a lawsuit, followed by an EPA settlement, resulting in policy changes to comply with the settlement. This has been going on far too often and many times without adequate public disclosure.

‘Sue and settle’

“We’ve watched organizations use the courts to twist laws against American farmers and agricultural production,” Peterson continued. “More and more, we are seeing important policy decisions that impact agriculture arise not from the legislative process, but from a litigation process where court decisions or secret lawsuit settlement negotiations result in poor policy decisions. If we don’t work together to find a solution, producers will likely continue being told how to operate by bureaucrats, lawyers and judges who don’t understand agriculture. This is not the way to make agriculture policy.”

Peterson said that a “sue-and-settle” strategy keeps the policy development process in the dark.

“I’ve started looking into this and it’s almost impossible to find copies of settlement agreements that have been negotiated by EPA and their Department of Justice counterparts,” Peterson said. “These agreements frequently contain provisions that are critical to agriculture and rural communities but they’re only coming to light after the fact. This needs to be a transparent process; the agreements need to be easily accessible to the public at one location on EPA’s website, and any damages or costs included in the settlement agreements must also be readily available.”

Peterson said he thinks Congress should address these issues, but noted that the ag committee does not have jurisdiction over the EPA. But as a potential example of future action, he cited committee approval March 9 of a bill to amend the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, Rodenticide Act and the Clean Water Act to clarify congressional intent and eliminate the requirement of a national pollutant discharge system permit for pesticides approved for use under FIFRA.

Law amendments

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., in his opening statement, thanked Jackson for her staff’s help in writing the bill to amend the two laws, but also said, “In many instances, the agency is ignoring congressional intent and looks to be bullying Congress. Instead of simply administering the law, EPA challenges Congress to pass legislation that gives it more authority. And, if Congress doesn’t act, it will regulate anyway.”

Lucas said farmers and his committee are upset that the EPA has proposed a zero tolerance for pesticide spray drift, initiated action to stiffen regulation of farm dust and is re-evaluating atra-zaine, a popular weed control product.

In her opening remarks, Jackson said that she is committed “to using the best available peer-reviewed science, transparency and the rule of law as hallmarks for EPA’s work in agriculture under my tenure.”

“In no other area of EPA’s work are those principles more important than in our work,” she said, saying she is “very much aware that farmers operate under unique and challenging circumstances — small margins, international competition, and the difficulties of operating a small business — that complicate the task of making a living on the land.”

In addition to providing the status on a range of EPA regulatory actions, Jackson said that the EPA expects to issue a final rule on allowing gasoline containing 15 percent ethanol “in the next few months.”

Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis praised Jackson in a statement for moving rapidly on the ethanol issue.

“There’s no better time than now to move E15 into the market, considering the alternative of continuing to see high oil prices and high gas prices,” he said.

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