In Iowa, GOP hopefuls decry government’s ‘heavy hand’ in farming 

Source: Amanda Peterka, E&E reporter • Posted: Tuesday, March 10, 2015

DES MOINES, Iowa — Potential Republican presidential contenders appearing this weekend at the first Iowa Agriculture Summit generally shared a common message: Get government out of farming.

From environmental regulations to the labeling of genetically modified foods to climate change, GOP hopefuls spurned a top-down federal government approach to agriculture. The potential candidates broadly called for a market approach to farming regulations — though they favored keeping federal crop insurance subsidies.

They also slammed the Obama administration’s controversial “Waters of the U.S.” proposal and pushed for voluntary approaches to cleaning up environmental pollution stemming from farming operations.

“I think that farmers and folks in this state and others want to protect the environment. Who wants to protect the environment more than farmers who rely upon a healthy environment for their success?” said New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. “And so I think unfortunately the government takes the approach where they have to use a heavy hand on these type of things.”

Saturday’s agriculture summit here in Des Moines featured most of the GOP presidential hopefuls and marked the first foray into Iowa by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush during the 2016 presidential season. Iowa agribusiness leader Bruce Rastetter organized the event, and it drew a largely Republican audience and most of Iowa’s political leaders.

Christie was among the most vocal against the Obama administration’s agriculture and environmental policies. He called U.S. EPA’s proposal to regulate which waters receive automatic Clean Water Act protection “nothing more than a power grab” and charged that it was former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson — who previously served as New Jersey’s environmental protection commissioner — “who started this entire power grab.”

“I spent the last five years dismantling the overreach she did in New Jersey in our environmental protection area, so I understand what this administration’s attitude is in this area because I’ve had a first-hand look,” he said.

Environmental protection on farms should be voluntary, Christie said, and involve farmers, local associations and state officials making decisions, rather than the federal government.

Bush, who spoke later in the day, echoed the New Jersey governor’s remarks.

“The only way to make this work effectively is not to come and mandate and regulate … it’s to collaborate to make sure that viability of agriculture is front and center,” Bush said.

Bush charged that EPA was trying to put its “tentacles” into “every aspect of the state of Florida” given the large number of wetlands there. He called for reining in the “top-down” regulatory system over agriculture and the environment.

When asked by Rastetter how he would accomplish that, Bush said, “The thing you do is change presidents.” He followed the line, which received applause from the audience, by calling for government agencies to be staffed with people who have practical experience in the field that they regulate.

Later in the daylong summit, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) called EPA’s waters rule “terrible,” “dangerous” and “completely unlawful.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) also charged that the Obama administration’s top-down regulatory approach extended to EPA’s Clean Power Plan proposal to stem carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants. He said the rule would put both farmers and manufacturers out of business.

“There is an out-of-control effort in Washington not to protect the environment but to control the economy,” Graham said.

All of the GOP presidential hopefuls called on the government not to require that genetically modified foods be labeled as such. Over the past few years, a growing movement on the state level to require the labeling of genetically modified food ingredients has spilled into the federal level.

GOP hopefuls slammed the movement as an attempt to discredit biotechnology rather than give consumers a choice at the supermarket.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee called the movement “politically motivated.”

“The science on GMOs has been consistent that it’s safe,” he said, adding that there was a “very small number of people” who are pushing for labeling.

Although the trend among GOP hopefuls was generally away from government intervention, most potential contenders also said they favored the continuation of the renewable fuel standard, the 2007 policy through which EPA sets yearly levels of conventional ethanol and advanced biofuels that refiners must blend into petroleum fuels (E&E Daily, March 9).

Potential contenders also said they still strongly favored the federal crop insurance program, which boosts farmers who have suffered losses from natural disasters, price declines and other unforeseen events. Through the program, the government helps subsidize premiums on crop insurance plans.

Bush called the program “integral” to farmers.

“The crop-insurance industry creates a stability that makes it possible in very volatile kinds of situations for farmers to be able to be successful,” he said.

Before the summit, the conservative group American Enterprise Institute called on the potential presidential contenders to “disavow” both the subsidies received by farmers and the renewable fuel standard. The group suggested that candidates would not be “genuine conservative leaders” if they retained support for subsidies and the biofuels mandate.

“They will be confronted with a difficult choice,” the group said. “Should they remain true to the principle of a market-based economy and small government and support the termination of wasteful agricultural subsidies and ill-advised regulations, even though that stance would likely cost them some support among Iowan corn and soybean farmers?”

Environmentalists and advocates for family farmers slammed the Iowa Agriculture Summit, saying it showed only one side of farming. They held a competing event Saturday called the Food and Ag Justice Summit to call for heightened environmental regulation over farming and less support for large-scale farms.

A small group of pro-small farm protesters gathered outside before the summit, chanting, “Family farms yes, factory farms no.”

A handful of hecklers were removed from the venue during the morning, but the mostly Republican audience inside the summit applauded the statements by the GOP presidential hopefuls on the role of government in farming.