Mark Obenshain: Agriculture under attack?

obenshain2I recently attended a regional meeting of the Virginia Association of Counties (VACO) where local county officials and legislators talked about the regional economy and about agriculture being the lifeblood of the Shenandoah Valley region. Augusta, Rockingham, Page and Shenandoah Counties are four of the top five agriculture-producing counties in the state. Agriculture is our number one industry in Virginia, and it’s continued vitality is essential to the economic health of the Commonwealth.

Despite this, Virginia’s farm families are facing many challenges. Some we can do little about while others are challenges created by the government. For example, this past week the Attorney General of Virginia did a victory dance after siding with the Obama Administration and the EPA against the American Farm Bureau, Virginia farmers and a wide array of businesses in a fight over the scope of the EPA power to trump state regulations and to impose new regulatory burdens on farms and businesses.

The attorneys general of 21 states had joined in this challenge to the EPA. Virginia was initially part of that coalition but Attorney General Herring actually switched sides and sided with the EPA against farmers. Last week, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the EPA, which is very bad news for farmers and for business. The faint glimmer of hope remaining is that the United States Supreme Court recently smacked down the EPA on yet another issue where they exceeded their authority and it may do so again here, but until then, agriculture remains in the crosshairs.
More recently there has been news coverage about a new lawsuit filed by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) against Virginia and the Department of Environmental Quality seeking more aggressive regulations on the agricultural community. The demands made in that lawsuit would impose costly new requirements that will predominately burden small farms. The EPA and the CBF seem to be working to drive farmers out of business. They either don’t understand or don’t care about the thin margins and economic constraints under which most farms operate. If they get their way, they are going to drive more farmers out of business and off their land.

There is a better way though. For much of the past decade the CBF and the Ag community have worked together, making enormous strides in aiding and encouraging the voluntary implementation of best management practices. These cooperative efforts have yielded huge gains and a significant reduction in nutrient runoff into our waterways. For some reason, that cooperation has ended and radical environmental extremists are ganging up with the EPA in its efforts to regulate every aspect of the family farm.

We can and should continue to clean up the bay with reasonable regulations–state regulations, not federal–and cost sharing programs that will assist farm families with the expense of compliance in order to avoid running them out of business. We can continue to clean up the Bay, but we need to do it in a way that makes sense for everyone. The Obama Administration and the EPA have already laid waste to the economy in coal and gas-rich Southwest Virginia. We simply can’t stand idly by and watch them do the same thing to the agricultural economy in Virginia.

Mark Obenshain is a member of the Virginia State Senate.

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