Op-Eds

Federal regulations affecting agriculture often boil down to a complicated alphabet soup of programs and rules. As your U.S. senator, I’m working in a bipartisan fashion to restore common sense to the onerous regulations that make life harder for families.

I’m also focused on providing more certainty for Nebraska’s agriculture producers who grow our state’s economy and feed the world.

In the 1980s, Congress enacted a law to address the release of toxic chemicals and hazardous waste. The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability (CERCLA) Act gave the federal government administrative tools to respond to incidents at toxic superfund sites. It’s a well-intentioned law that helps keep our families and communities safe, but it was never intended to apply to animal agriculture.

A final rule published by the EPA in 2008 exempted most livestock operations from reporting requirements under CERCLA. Almost a decade later, a D.C. Circuit Court overturned this exemption.

Nebraska livestock producers are worried about how this ruling impacts them. They have every right to be worried.

Farms, ranches, feedlots, and other operations are now trying to figure out how to report animal manure from livestock. Not only is this ridiculous, but it’s also nearly impossible to comprehend.

No mechanisms are readily available for producers to calculate emissions from animal waste. That makes it challenging to submit an accurate report.

This uncertainty has caused confusion. The National Response Center (NRC), which is operated by the U.S. Coast Guard, handles these reporting requirements.

According to the NRC’s director, daily calls at the center have jumped from an average of 100-150 to well over 1,000 a day creating, at times, a two-hour wait for calls to get through. Because of this influx of reports, the U.S. Coast Guard is worried they will be unable to respond to real emergencies.

As a member of both the Senate Agriculture Committee and the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, I was in a strong position to legislatively address this situation. That’s exactly what I did.

Working closely with Nebraska stakeholders, including the Nebraska Cattlemen, I led a coalition of bipartisan senators in introducing the Fair Agricultural Reporting Method Act or the “FARM Act.”

Specifically, the FARM Act would provide an exemption for animal waste emissions at a farm from CERCLA reporting requirements. It would finally provide agricultural producers with the needed regulatory certainty for their operations.

Senators from all across the country — 10 Republicans and 12 Democrats — have joined me on this bill. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), and ranking member of Environment and Public Works, Tom Carper (D-Del.), are all behind this effort because it’s good policy.

With such strong bipartisan support, I’m optimistic this proposal will quickly move forward in the Senate.

Reporting animal waste emissions does not address any health hazards or keep communities safer. In fact, it doesn’t accomplish anything other than burdening ag producers for no good reason.

The FARM Act is the common-sense legislation our farmers and ranchers need. Nebraskans and Republicans and Democrats across the country agree.