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March 3, 2017

Even With Trump, Environmental Pressures Won't Just Go Away

 |  By: Dairy Talk

By Jim Dickrell

Farmers in general, and dairy producers in particular, breathed a little easier when the Trump Administration announced last month that it would roll back expansion of the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) championed by the Obama Administration.

While that announcement is definitely good news, it doesn’t mean WOTUS is going away or that environmental regulation enforcement is a thing of the past. The Trump Administration’s announcement  clarifies Federal government intentions, but WOTUS doesn’t go away, says Leah Ziemba, an attorney with Michael Best Friedrich, based in Madison, Wis.

In fact, she says, the announcement could actually intensify scrutiny and energize environmental activists if Federal agencies aren’t enforcing regulations.  “It could actually create more room for citizen actions,” she says.

Scott Pruitt also got grilled during his hearing in February to become administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. Questions at the hearing focused on how he would regulate two industries: Coal mining and agriculture. “Pruitt got a lot of questions on agricultural rule enforcement,” says Jim Bradbury, an attorney specializing in agricultural environmental issues based in Texas.

Environmental  groups will use Pruitt’s appointment to raise money for their cause. “This is about politics and not about cleaning up the environment,” says Bradbury.

Even if Federal government regulators under the Trump Administration are less prone to go to enforcement actions, farmers should continue to be vigilant and comply with permit requirements. “If the Trump Administration takes its foot off the gas on regulations, use the time to get permits into shape and records up to date,” says Karl Czymmek, an attorney and statewide crop and nutrient management consultant with Cornell University.  

And if farms don’t have environmental emergency action plans, they should develop them to meet the specific needs of their operations. “Think of permits and emergency plans as your insurance policy,” Czymmek says. “If you earnestly follow them, you’re in a much better position if something happens. If you are in compliance with them, they’re a near ‘get out of jail’ card.”

Documentation is critical, however. “If it’s not documented, it didn’t happen,” adds Ziemba.

Plus, compliance with permits and documentation is essential if you have an incident and seek insurance coverage. No insurance company will pay an indemnity if permit rules are not followed or records are incomplete. 

The attorneys also recommend that farms reach out to their communities to show they care about neighbors and the environment and to build social license to continue to operate. It also might be time to call out bad actors. “Farmers are often reluctant to get into other farmers’ business, but we may be getting to a tipping point that we have to deal with bad actors,” says Czymmek.

Activist groups and predatory attorneys are looking for farms they can target to paint agriculture as an industry that doesn’t care about the environment. They are looking for cases to get easy wins, set court precedents and tighten environmental rules even further.

Bradbury, Czymmek and Ziemba spoke last week at the Western Dairy Management Conference in Reno, Nev.