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Ag retailers recognize Heitkamp as ‘Legislator of the Year’ for work to stop harmful fertilizer standard

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Agricultural Retailers Association honored U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp today with its “Legislator of the Year” award, recognizing her work to stop a harmful Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standard that would have shuttered North Dakota fertilizer retailers and forced farmers to travel further to purchase fertilizer.

Heitkamp fought for over a year to keep OSHA’s Process Safety Management (PSM) standard from going into effect. It would have applied tough, across-the-board restrictions on agricultural retailers that sell anhydrous ammonia, a common fertilizer, burdening retailers and farmers.

“I’m proud to receive this award, but I’m even prouder of the work I spearheaded with North Dakota agricultural retailers to stop this standard from hurting our farmers and the rural businesses that support them,” said Heitkamp. “Had the rule gone into effect, it would have forced anhydrous ammonia retailers to shut down due to excessive compliance costs, forcing North Dakota farmers to pay more and travel greater distances with anhydrous—and that certainly wouldn’t have increased safety. Going forward, I’ll keep fighting wrongheaded federal policies to make sure farmers, ranchers, and the businesses that support them continue to thrive.”

The award also recognized Heitkamp’s efforts to fix the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s over-reaching Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule, including introducing a bipartisan bill to accomplish that goal.

“It is an honor to present Sen. Heitkamp with ARA’s Legislator of the Year award,” said ARA President and CEO Daren Coppock. “The work she did across the aisle with Sen. Blunt to help block PSM enforcement, as well as fighting against EPA’s WOTUS rule, has been invaluable to ag retailers. We appreciate their dedication and continued support for the agriculture industry.”

Heitkamp held two Subcommittee hearings to push the administration to withdraw the standard, helped temporarily block the standard through the appropriations process, and introduced bipartisan legislation to make OSHA scrap the standard and consult with farmers and retailers in a rulemaking process in the future.

Complying with the standards could have cost each facility up to $50,000, according to the North Dakota Department of Agriculture. More than 30 North Dakota retailers said they would have had to stop selling the fertilizer.

Because of language Heitkamp helped include in the end-of-the-year spending bill Congress passed in December 2015, OSHA postponed enforcement of the guidance until October 2016. Ultimately the courts stopped the standard, ruling in September 2016 that the administration should have gone through the rule-making process—seeking input from retailers—rather than simply issuing standards in July 2015 that were effective immediately.

In September, Heitkamp pushed key administration officials for a solution on the standards that would protect North Dakota farmers, fertilizer retailers and rural communities from harmful new federal fertilizer standards. Heitkamp called on the administration to voluntarily delay the standards given the impact they would have. In July, Heitkamp and U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE) introduced bipartisan legislation to stop the harmful federal standard from going into effect. It would have required the agency to abide by a notice and comment rulemaking process when instituting a similar policy change in the future. Click here to view text of the FARM Act.

The policy would have required facilities that store or transport 10,000 pounds or more of anhydrous ammonia to obtain Process Safety Management Standard documentation. If the facility could not obtain this documentation, it would have been forced to purchase new storage tanks, costing $70,000 or more.

In 2015, Heitkamp helped introduce a strong and comprehensive bipartisan bill to do away with the WOTUS rule, which she began working on with Republican and Democratic senators in early 2014. The bill offers a compromise fix by doing away with the harmful rule and sending it back to the EPA for the agency to redo, so it takes into account the concerns of farmers and ranchers.