Congress Is Now Using Farming As An Excuse To Tear Down Environmental Protections

The Endangered Species Act was signed into law to save this American icon, the bald eagle. David McMillan/Shutterstock

The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) met on Wednesday to discuss the “burdensome” regulations affecting the agricultural industry in the US. The “unreasonable” and “excessive” regulations they speak of include the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), and the Clean Water Act (CWA) – all policies written and implemented to protect the environment and public health from industry interest. 

The hearing involved testimonies from key industry figures, such as Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, and Dr Howard Hill, president of the National Pork Producers Council, and offers a preview of some of the criticisms levied at the ESA that may go on to influence the drafting of the 2018 farm bill. This is a piece of legislation that will have major repercussions for at least another four to five years.  

Speaking of environmental legislation, Senator John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), who leads the EPW, said at the hearing: “One of the steps that takes the longest amount of time is what they call an environmental impact statement.

“Regulations and red tape have become unreasonable, and they’ve become excessive.” 

But Barrasso is not an impartial judge. In fact, he has some very personal interest in dismantling environmental protections that limit fracking, mining, and construction. In the past three election cycles, he has received more than $500,000 in campaign funding from the oil, gas, and coal industries. This is more than a little concerning considering the fact that he heads a committee that is supposed to study and review “matters relating to environmental protection and resource utilization and conservation”.

It appears he has a bone to pick with the ESA, an act signed into law in 1973 by a former Republican president, Nixon. Since 2011, he has voted against it close to a dozen times. He has also sponsored at least nine legislative attacks on the ESA in the past two years alone.

The act is supposed to protect any species of plant or animal vulnerable to extinction, which to most people sounds reasonable enough. In the past five decades, some 2,300 species have been listed as either “threatened” or “endangered”, many of which would likely be extinct today if it hadn’t been so. 

"It's really disturbing to see Barrasso and other Senate Republicans bending over backward to please polluters and the pesticide industry," Brett Hartl, from the Center for Biological Diversity, said, reports EcoWatch.

"The price will be dirtier rivers and streams, and more wildlife on the fast track toward extinction."

In other news, ignoring scientists' recommendation to ban the toxic insecticide chlorpyrifos, a substance believed to cause birth defects in children, at the behest of a multinational chemical company that approaches Bond villain levels of evil but that's exactly what Scott Pruitt, EPA chief, decided to do. This comes after the realization that the pesticide poses an extinction risk to 38 different species of salmon and sturgeon on the US’ east and west coasts.

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