Inside Washington: How will candidates handle regulations?

Here's a look at how Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton would tackle regulations affecting agriculture.

If there is one issue in this year’s election that resonates most with farmers, it is likely regulations. Many farmers continue to feel the increasing burden of regulations that often don’t account for what goes on at the ground level and conflict between overlapping agencies.

In response to questions posed by Penton Agriculture, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said the nation’s regulatory system is “completely broken.” He added, “Whether through excessive land use restrictions that impact farmers and ranchers, environmental requirements that impose enormous costs on farmers or overreaching food product regulations, federal regulatory burdens have increased dramatically in recent years. This must change.”

Trump noted that, in many instances, extreme environmental groups have more influence in setting regulations than the farmers and ranchers who are directly affected by the regulations. “There will be no more ‘sue and settle’ deals with extreme environmentalists,” Trump’s response said.

Speaking at a Farm Foundation Forum on Wednesday, Trump’s top agriculture advisor, Sam Clovis, said the Trump camp has heard concerns from ranchers in the western U.S. about the many agencies that have overlapping and conflicting regulations. He mentioned the conflict between the Bureau of Land Management and the Fish & Wildlife Service, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Commerce and others whose rules and laws aren’all t compatible with one another.

He said Trump would try to get the agencies back to their mission space and “find ways to get people out of others’ lanes” when that creates conflicts in laws and their enforcement. By reviewing different department missions, Trump would then take proposed changes to Congress for an up or down vote.

Clovis said regionalizing regulatory packages also offers helpful solutions. For instance, he noted that the average cattle operation size in Ohio is 16 head, while one in Nebraska it may be 3,000 head. He said while some regulations should be common between the two, such as controlling runoff, other aspects of regulatory enforcement may be different based on climatology, geology or terrain.

In the 13 western states, the federal government owns more than 20% of the land. In Utah, the federal government owns more than 60% of the state's land. “Those 13 states probably ought to have their own set of rules” when it comes to land management issues, Clovis said.

Clovis also encouraged a shift in decision-making on wildlife and indigenous species to the state and local government levels as possible. “The Fish & Wildlife Services can help as a facilitator and help in cooperation,” Clovis said. “States have the best handle on fisheries and wildlife habitats.”

Former U.S. Department of Agriculture undersecretary Kathleen Merrigan, who is now a professor and director of the Food Institute at George Washington University, spoke on behalf of the campaign for Democrat presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. She noted that multi-state solutions are working, citing the ongoing efforts to improve the Chesapeake Bay watershed basin. She also gave praise to groups such as the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture and said close working relationships with state leaders are needed.

Merrigan shared the importance of regulations ranging from biotechnology to marketing systems to organic industry standards. “The anti-regulatory drumbeat is not helpful as we need to be more calibrated in our discussion,” she said, adding that regulation, in and of itself, is "not a bad thing. It levels the playing field and builds trust and confidence with the American public.”

Merrigan challenged that in order to make government smarter, there needs to be someone in the Oval Office who already knows how government works and with the right skill set and temperament — and “Clinton is the person for that job.”

In responding to the same questionnaire on farmers’ concerns about current costs and the negative effects of overregulation, Clinton’s team said Clinton would “always engage a wide range of stakeholders, including farmers and ranchers, to hear their concerns and ideas for how we can ensure our rural communities and our agriculture sector remain vibrant. If there are implementation challenges with a particular regulation, Hillary will work with all stakeholders to address them.”

Trump offered a more proactive approach, saying he will increase transparency and accountability in the regulatory process. “Rational cost/benefit tests will be used to ensure that any regulation is justified before it is adopted. Unjustified regulations that are bad for American farmers and consumers will be changed or repealed,” he said.

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