R.F.D. NEWS & VIEWS: Illinois lawmakers take rural concerns to EPA

By Tim Alexander for Chronicle Media

U.S. EPA Administrator Michael Regan addressed concerns of farmers and others at an April 19 House Ag Committee hearing for more than four hours. All five members of Congress from Illinois who serve on the committee asked questions, the Illinois Farm Bureau reported. (Photo courtesy of House Ag Committee/Illinois Farm Bureau)

This week’s farm and rural news column focuses on farming and politics. We have a farmer’s-eye view of what’s currently going on with topics of concern in agriculture currently under discussion in the nation’s capital. Please read on …


Illinois lawmakers take rural concerns to EPA

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Illinois Farm Bureau’s FarmWeekNow.com reported last week that nearly every intersection between the agriculture industry and federal environmental regulations under the Biden administration was scrutinized during a “fiery” hearing on Capitol Hill. Topics of discussion between members of the House Agriculture Committee and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan reportedly covered a wide range of issues, including proposed limitations on pesticides like atrazine and chlorpyrifos and requirements governing production volumes of biofuels. Also discussed was EPA’s proposed rule defining “waters of the U.S.”, which has been blocked by more than two dozen states — but not by Illinois — from where five House lawmakers took part in questioning Regan for around four hours.

IFB noted that all five members of Congress representing Illinois who serve on the House ag committee, Reps. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, Nikki Budzinski, D-Springfield, Jonathan Jackson, D-Chicago, Mary Miller, R-Oakland and Eric Sorensen, D-East Moline, asked questions that illustrated the diversity of topics impacting Illinois farmers.

Specifically, Bost asked Regan to weigh in on lawmakers’ calls for EPA to again use an emergency waiver allowing sales of E15 this summer. Regan replied that the agency is focused on developing a rule to allow year-round sales of E15 in eight states starting in 2024, and that it “tried to ramp it up in a timely fashion to have 2023 included, but we’re probably just not going to be able to do that,” according to the IFB report.

In addition, freshman lawmaker Sorenson asked Regan to explain the agency’s approach to regulating the use of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Regan responded that EPA’s goal is to “go after the polluters, not our farmers, not our ranchers, not our water utilities.” Relatedly, both Budzinski and Jackson asked Regan to ensure that EPA devotes resources to smaller communities for water infrastructure projects.

Things got a little heated, according to the IFB report, when Miller engaged with Regan over solar energy systems by presenting him with agency-published information that alleges certain varieties of solar panels can contain high enough quantities of materials EPA classifies as “hazardous waste” to prohibit disposal in traditional landfills. Miller was concerned that areas in her district where solar farms have been constructed will have a “reclamation problem in the future” and the Biden administration is “promoting a situation where prime farmland will become unstable and need serious remediation because of the solar panels.”

Regan acknowledged the concern of solar farms competing with production farmland, but reminded Miller that installing solar panels on private land is a choice farmers make and not a government mandate. (IFB/Timothy Eggert)


Farm bill redux: SNAP flap could delay progress

URBANA — Two old farm bill nemesis’, SNAP funding and the debt ceiling debate, are building in tandem to threaten the progress of the 2023 Farm Bill. This is according to the University of Illinois farmdoc team, which published an article (Farm Bill 2023: Questions About the Focus on SNAP Work Requirements; farmdoc daily) in which  Jonathan Coppess and Mark White of the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics at the U of I cast doubt on whether a farm bill could be completed this year — and whether SNAP is worth the fight to farmers.

“The effort to reauthorize the farm bill in 2023 is entangled with the debt ceiling debate, which includes demands for achieving spending reductions. Reports of the recent proposal by Speaker of the House, Kevin McCarthy, R-California, indicate that one method being proposed to reduce spending involves work requirements on federal assistance to low-income households and individuals,” the researchers reported. “Efforts to reduce SNAP program spending can create a critical impediment to reauthorizing a farm bill. Such was the experience for both the 2014 Farm Bill and the 2018 Farm Bill debates, where partisan disagreements over SNAP —including controversial changes to work requirements — caused problems for reauthorization in the House of Representatives.”

The debate raises questions about the effectiveness of work requirements or similar policies, Coppess and White concluded. “For a farm bill debate, the questions might be more pointed. Given low unemployment and elevated poverty, these questions include whether tightening work requirements can be expected to reduce SNAP spending. Given that the last two farm bill debates were nearly derailed by partisan disagreements over SNAP and work requirements, the questions also include whether a third round of this fight is worth the risk,” the farm economists wrote.


Senate Dems sign on to export trade bill

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Illinois Democratic Senators Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin have signed on to cosponsor the recently introduced “Expanding Agricultural Exports Act of 2023” (S.176) bill. The bipartisan Senate bill increases funding for USDA’s Foreign Market Development and Market Access programs, while extending the programs to 2029.

Specifically, the bipartisan bill sponsored by Sens. Angus King, I-Maine, Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, Tina Smith, D-Minnesota, and Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Washington boosts marketing efforts and overseas sales for American agricultural products. The Expanding Agricultural Exports Act is estimated to increase agricultural exports by $7.4 billion by doubling funding for the advertising programs of agricultural goods in foreign countries, according to King.

To facilitate the boost in exports, the Act would double authorized funding levels for the Market Access Program and Foreign Market Development Program to $400 million and $69 million, respectively. The funds are used to reimburse agricultural organizations for a portion of the cost of carrying out overseas marketing and promotional activities, such as consumer promotions.

“Illinois Corn applauds both senators for supporting this bill that is critical for farmers to expand key markets and build new export market demand.” said Matt Rush, Illinois Corn Growers Association president and a farmer from southern Illinois.


Illinois Farm Fact:

SNAP spending accounts for more than 80 percent of the annual spending in a farm bill. (CBO/University of Illinois farmdoc)