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Beware the Next Wave of Regulations


We just finished celebrating Mother’s Day, a day dedicated to honoring all the good things mothers do for us.  High on this list is nurturing, protecting, and comforting. No matter if you are 6 or 60, when you have an accident, your mother is concerned and wants to do what she can to make things better.  Most of us can remember fondly when Mom put a Band-Aid on our knee or paid our first speeding ticket.  Mothers also show love and compassion for us by not always helping us out. This kind of tough love might involve giving us a swift kick in the pants when we needed it or letting us pull ourselves up so we learn how to stand on our own two feet. Unfortunately most in Congress (including the mothers), have not learned how to apply this later principle to public policy.


Let a major accident or tragedy happen, and somebody in Washington, like an overprotective mother,  is ready to rush in with a new law or regulation to prevent it from happening again or better yet to “protect us” from being hurt in the future.  Take, for example, the recent massive explosion at a fertilizer plan in Texas.  The April 17 fire and subsequent explosion at the West Fertilizer Company killed 14 people and sparked nationwide media speculation about the safety of agricultural fertilizer facilities.  Now the explosion and fertilizer plant safety is the subject of a Congressional hearing. California Sen. Barbara Boxer has vowed to investigate the deadly West Fertilizer plant explosion. Boxer, chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said she intends to hold an oversight hearing into the chemical explosion at the fertilizer plant and what chemical safety laws should be examined at similar facilities. “I cannot rest until we get to the bottom of what caused the disaster in West, Texas and the tragic loss of life,” she said. “It is critical that we find out how this happened. We must ensure that facilities like the one in West are complying with chemical safety laws. We will look at how the laws on the books are being enforced and whether there is a need to strengthen them.”  This is Capitol Hill speak for “We are going to find someone to blame for this and then tie this industry up in so much government red tape they won’t be able to move.”


Boxer is also calling on the federal bureaucracy to get involved and spend several million taxpayer dollars on duplicative and overlapping investigations. Boxer also released letters she sent to Rafael Moure-Eraso, chairman of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, and Bob Perciasepe, acting administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, asking that both agencies conduct a thorough investigation into the explosion and provide recommendations to prevent such a disaster from occurring again. She also asked the EPA administrator about state and federal plans for prevention.


All of this is totally unnecessary because the fertilizer industry has an outstanding safety record and because state and local governments have laws and regulations in place to protect workers and the general public.  But, like everything that happens in Washington, there is a political side to Senator Boxer’s sudden concern over fertilizer. Texas Governor Rick Perry, an outspoken critic of big government regulations, has come under fire from liberals who blame the blast on a lack of government oversight.  In true Texas style, Perry has responded with some strong language of his own, “While I will always welcome healthy policy debate, I won’t stand for someone mocking the tragic deaths of my fellow Texans and our fellow Americans.”


In addition, Texas has been actively courting California businesses by promoting the lack of heavy regulations in Texas compared to the massive and burdensome regulations in California. The truly scary part of all this is that, if Boxer and her big Government friends get their way, the entire agricultural fertilizer industry will suffer.


Not only are Congressional nannies rushing to regulate where there might be a problem, they are rushing to regulate where there is not a problem. The Antimicrobial Data Collection Act, introduced by Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), Dianne Feinstein (CA), and Susan Collins (ME), calls for “increased data collection by the FDA, enhanced transparency and public awareness of antimicrobial drug use in agriculture and strengthened FDA accountability regarding unsafe antimicrobial drug use.”  This is another attempt by a small group of do good liberals to ban the use of antibiotics in livestock production. Similar bills have gone nowhere due, in part, to the fact that there is not a credible, scientific link between drug use in livestock and drug resistance in people.


The livestock industry has developed several programs to educate producers about and promote the safe and responsible use of pharmaceutical products in animals. Yet, big government advocates won’t be satisfied until there are dozens of forms to be filled out in triplicate by a farmer, in the presence of a licensed vet and USDA and FDA inspector, in order to administer a drug to a sick animal.


Parents have to talk a fine line between overprotecting a child and abandoning a child. A parent must learn when to step in and protect and when to step back and let a child grow by doing something by themselves. The US agriculture sector can only grow, prosper, and survive if Washington learns when to step in and when to stay out.


By Gary Truitt