- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 6, 2010

When the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) thinks about farmers, it must have in mind the lyrics from that song by Kansas: “All we are is dust in the wind.”

That’s because the EPA wants to regulate the dust that farmers produce as they run combines through their fields and drive down gravel roads.

Federal bureaucrats seem to have forgotten that food production is a challenging business - and yes, sometimes it kicks up a bit of dust.

What’s next? Regulating backyard gardeners who grow the flowers that make the pollen that causes neighbors with allergies to sneeze?

Don’t be surprised if it comes to that. As Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas said in a recent hearing, the EPA makes a habit of threatening farmers and ranchers with “burdensome, duplicative, costly, unnecessary or, in some cases, just plain bizarre” regulations.

Farm dust is a perfect example of federal overreach. Nobody has shown that farm dust is a public health hazard. Judges have determined that the research is “inconclusive,” but they’ve stopped short of blocking the EPA’s draconian rules.

Frustration with the EPA is bipartisan. Republican Rep. Frank D. Lucas of Oklahoma agrees with Mrs. Lincoln. He called the EPA “an agency gone wild” and warned that “if the EPA is allowed to continue down this path, the only choice for many farmers and ranchers will be to stop farming altogether.”

This is a crystal-clear example of a federal government that doesn’t have its priorities straight. Unemployment is sky-high. The challenges of joblessness are especially severe in rural America. Shouldn’t our overlords in Washington strive to get people back to work? At the very least, they shouldn’t go out of their way to make life more difficult for struggling families in these hard times.

Yet that’s what the EPA seems designed to do. My own experience with the agency is a tale of chronic frustration. It can feel as if EPA has a boot planted on my throat, trying to choke the life out of me.

“Why has an American agency decided to declare regulatory war on such a large swath of American people?” asked Gerald Simonsen of the National Sorghum Producers at a forum in Washington last week.

I know exactly what he means. Friends of mine who grow corn are worried about the future of atrazine, an important crop-protection herbicide.

I have my own hassles with the EPA. The latest involves irrigation. Here in California, water is at a premium: We just don’t have enough of it. Federal regulations are a big part of the reason why, but that’s another story. The bottom line is that we have to use water with maximum efficiency so we can grow the food Americans need.

I can’t afford to lose any water, so I save every last drop - even when I’m flushing the sediment from my irrigation tape. After the water cleans out my lines, it flows into a holding pond. From there, I can reuse it.

Recycling water is an example of sustainable agriculture at work. It enables me to get the most out of limited resources.

But the EPA may make me halt this practice. It’s worried that trace amounts of herbicide and pesticide possibly will show up in my holding pond.

So, instead of seeing my recycled water as a source of life for a farm that grows food in a dry land, it may treat my water as a potential source of environmental contamination.

The coming micromanagement could be severe. Previous experience with the EPA teaches me that I should anticipate a worse-case scenario - and then assume that the result will be twice as bad.

I don’t want to pollute anything - and I certainly don’t want to pollute my own farmland, where I live and work. Nobody has a greater stake in my farm’s safety than I do.

I support sensible regulations. It’s the insensible ones that drive me batty. The problem is that the EPA often refuses to exercise common sense. Its one-size-fits-all approach is bad for everyone.

The only people it helps are the regulators who seem to think their job is to produce a bumper crop of onerous new rules, without a care for whether rural America produces the food our country needs.

Ted Sheely farms in California’s San Joaquin Valley. He is a board member of Truth About Trade and Technology.

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