New Congress Likely to Address Regulatory Reform

Taylor HillmanGeneral

In the early days of the 115th U.S. Congress, lawmakers are expected to address an issue that has been a key concern of farmers and ranchers: unnecessary or duplicative regulation by the federal government. The new, Republican-led Congress will likely take up regulatory-reform legislation early in the coming session.

“Regulatory reform is a very broad way of defining the problems that we face—the paperwork, expectations, rules, laws, fees, permits, penalties, including criminal penalties—all of that goes under this big umbrella,” said Josh Rolph, California Farm Bureau Federation Federal Policy manager.

With members of Congress set to be sworn in early this week, Rolph said, the transition to a new Trump administration and a Republican-controlled legislative branch leaves “the expectation that things can get done.”

“We have a business-minded incoming president, and we expect the new administration to look at WOTUS (a “waters of the U.S.” rule opposed by farmers and ranchers) and other regulations,” Rolph said. “Regulatory reform is a big deal. We have to advocate to bring some more common sense to help us run our businesses.”

San Joaquin County winegrape grower Brad Goehring said farmers and ranchers feel overwhelmed by the abundance of costly regulations handed down by government agencies.

“It’s just everything. We can hardly make a move anymore without having to wonder what permit we have to file for; it’s just hamstringing us,” Goehring said. “In terms of regulations such as WOTUS, those things are basically land takings and a violation of private property rights. The government tells you that you can’t use your own land to do this or that, or stay away from this corner of your land, but then they don’t pay you for that land that you just have to let sit idle.”

Goehring said he is optimistic about prospects for regulatory reform in the next Congress and under a Trump administration.

“The people spoke in this election and they are tired of not just the regulatory arena, but just government in general has gotten too big and cumbersome. It has to be pared back,” he said.

Paul Schlegel, American Farm Bureau Federation director of environment and energy policy, said the House of Representatives is likely to debate regulatory-reform legislation during the second week of January.

“What we want to do in the process arena is to say, ‘Look, when you develop regulations, you have to be open and transparent and you have to give the stakeholders enough notice and you have to respect state agencies who implement the statutes,’ so there’s a whole series of process-related things,” Schlegel said. “We think if we can improve the process, we can improve the eventual result.”

The legislative effort for regulatory reform may involve one or more pieces of legislation, one of which is likely to be the Regulatory Accountability Act, which was introduced in the previous Congress as H.R. 185 by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va.

Farm Bureau has been encouraging Congress to take up the issue because of agriculture’s experience with the WOTUS rulemaking, a regulation that Schlegel said “allows the federal government to regulate in ways that they have never done before,” with particular impacts on agriculture.

Enacted in 2015 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Environmental Protection Agency, the WOTUS rule would bring more waterways and wetlands under jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act, agricultural groups say. Farmers, ranchers and agricultural organizations fear it could bring widespread restrictions on farmland and routine agricultural activities.

AFBF has recommended the regulatory reform legislation be amended to include a prohibition on the use of social media by agencies as a means of influencing a rulemaking, citing the EPA “Ditch the Myth” campaign for the WOTUS rule as an example of agency abuse. The EPA came under fire for acting as a vocal and highly politicized advocate for its proposal, rather than as a fair broker that would weigh all public comments impartially.

“WOTUS, we feel, goes beyond the law, but we also feel the conduct of the agency in developing it was inappropriate and in some cases was illegal,” Schlegel said. “What we’re aiming at in the regulatory-reform effort is to try and put some boundaries and some guidelines on what agencies do and how they do it, so that their science is transparent.”

In addition, Schlegel added, there are broader questions related to how agencies use science and economic data: how they can be held accountable, how much time they give stakeholders to respond to what has been proposed and how they engage with state regulators.

“There’s a whole series of steps that we think can be improved,” he said.

The regulatory-reform legislation is likely to pass the House, observers said, but added there will be a need in the Senate to win support from Democratic senators.

Christine Souza is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at for use is granted by the California Farm Bureau Federation.