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Riding the regulatory roller coaster

By Steve Hensley
sr Director for Regulatory Affairs
USA Rice Federation
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USA Rice Federation work on legislative and trade issues is widely known, but USA Rice also devotes substantial resources and energy to regulatory issues. That is because federal government agencies constantly publish regulations with consequences – unintended or otherwise – for agriculture and rice in particular.

Regulatory concerns have increased under the new administration, in part because President Obama ordered each agency to hold another review of Bush-era regulations, an action that has sometimes worked against the rice industry by reversing some hard-fought victories.

Of the approximately 20 regulatory actions affecting rice, here are the top six requiring USA Rice attention:

Spill prevention, control and countermeasures
USA Rice has worked on this rule since 2003 and negotiated multiple victories, including the provision of as many as five years for compliance and the exclusion of fuel and hydraulic tanks of tractors and other equipment. Unfortunately, the Obama administration withdrew the rule for review and is instead issuing amended regulations. EPA’s enforcement office says farm compliance must start immediately and that enforcement is near.

The rule currently requires the presence of secondary containment structures around most aboveground oil storage containers when your farm has the aggregate capacity to store 1,320 gallons. A written spill plan and other items are also required.

National Cotton Council court case
The Sixth Circuit Court of appeals recently ruled that pesticide residues in water are pollutants that require Clean Water Act (CWA) permits. This decision on a national EPA rule could make it necessary for farmers and others to acquire permits for every application of pesticides, fertilizers, road deicers, etc. USA Rice filed a group Amicus Brief to have the decision reheard by the full court and is awaiting the outcome of that action.

Clean Water Restoration Act
Although currently at the legislative stage, the Clean Water Restoration Act will have tremendous regulatory impact as it seeks to restore and increase the reach of the 1977 CWA. For example, grassy low areas that only carry rain water and isolated waters where migratory birds land will become regulated U.S. waters, the use of which will require a permit. As in the past, some change of use practices such as switching between crop and pasture in a regulated “water” of the United States may not be allowed.

Stationary Engine Emissions Rule (aka RICE Rule)
This proposed rule will apply to all stationary reciprocating internal combustion engines (RICE) – such as irrigation engines – and will require onerous and costly engine replacement, retrofitting, or maintenance and recordkeeping (for smaller engines). USA Rice is drafting a response as part of the public comment period that was to end June 3.

Part 240 Biotech Rules
These are the rules that the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service uses to regulate genetically modified crops, and they’ve been in review for modification for years. After the close of the final comment period under the Bush administration, the Obama administration reopened the rule. Public comments are now due on June 29. The USA Rice Federation will comment again.

Petition to revoke 2,4-D
Only one of many pesticide issues, the circumstances of 2,4-D may best illustrate the continual assault on agricultural inputs. Last year the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) issued a petition to revoke the use of 2,4-D. The petition was almost identical to one NRDC issued a few years before, but as in the past, EPA and industry were forced to expend resources to provide scientific data to refute NRDC arguments. USA Rice gathered usage data from across the industry and provided it to the agency. A decision is forthcoming.

These are only a few of the currently open regulatory decisions that will affect the rice industry in the next few years. You will likely see the proposal of many more rules that could negatively affect your livelihood. USA Rice is monitoring these actions and working with the all segments of the industry to develop responses to help protect the producer’s ability to continue to grow a safe, abundant and affordable domestic food supply.

Buckle up tightly. This roller coaster ride has only just begun.

For more about USA rice programs, visit www.usarice.com.

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