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Published December 02 2010

Farm industry leaders urge unified voice to rein in EPA regulators

Farm industry leaders say Red River Valley farmers and producers should work together to oppose environmental policies that could harm the area’s agricultural sector.

During a discussion panel Wednesday at the Northern Ag Expo in Fargo, industry experts talked about their concerns with current and potential Environmental Protection Agency regulations and what farmers can do to better their circumstances.

Federal lawmakers, including members of North Dakota’s delegation, have voiced concern in recent months that the EPA has too much power in determining its regulations and that potential mandates on carbon emissions or farm dust could harm those in the farming industry.

For the average farmer or agricultural business, continual changes in EPA regulations are frustrating, because it can be costly and confusing to stay in compliance with new rules, said Paul Johnson, a vice president with the Minnesota Association of Wheat Growers.

“We don’t know what will be coming down on us,” Johnson said.

Jim Gray, a division director with the North Dakota Department of Agriculture, said his concerns are with changes in clean air and water regulations, which some in the industry might not be aware of or which might be overly burdensome to them.

As an example, Gray said EPA field inspectors have threatened to levy fines of up to $60,000 against a half-dozen North Dakota businesses that use or sell large quantities of anhydrous ammonia and don’t maintain a risk management plan, as they’re required to.

“That’s something we’re very, very much concerned about,” Gray said. “We want dealers and those using anhydrous as a coolant to understand what the requirements are and get them into compliance, or at least make sure there’s a dialogue (with the EPA).”

Gray, Johnson and others on the panel said farmers and agriculture organizations need to work together toward a common interest – especially in the face of well-funded and passionate environmentalist groups that aggressively lobby to influence EPA decisions.

“If we aren’t there, if we aren’t knocking on doors, someone else will be and we may not like the message they’re delivering,” said Keith Olsen, president of the Nebraska Farm Bureau. “If we don’t make the effort, we’ve got no one to blame but ourselves if we don’t like the outcome.”

Johnson said agriculture groups should collaborate and “get on the same page.”

“They don’t want to hear mixed messages,” he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kristen Daum at (701) 241-5541