Buried beneath the avalanche of press coverage about the lame-duck Congress, I found a story about President Obama’s mid-December meeting with twenty corporate CEOs. The purpose of this Blair House get-together was to discuss how to jump-start our still-ailing economy. Among other aims, Mr. Obama reiterated his goals to increase employment, end the recession, and double U.S. exports over the next five years.
These are lofty and laudable ambitions. But it seems that Mr. Obama’s regulatory bureaucrats haven’t gotten the memo. For example, consider the counter-productive impact of their efforts on agriculture.
As any shopper knows, food prices this past year have been rising faster than the overall rate of inflation. “Fears of a global food crisis swept the world’s commodity markets as prices for staples such as corn, rice and wheat spiraled after the U.S. government warned of ‘dramatically’ lower supplies,” the Financial Times reported in early October. “There is growing concern among countries about continuing volatility and uncertainty in food markets,” said World Bank president Robert Zoellick later that month. “These concerns have been compounded by recent increases in grain prices.”
Confronting this looming food-supply crisis is the American farmer. His productivity is such that the United States is the world’s largest agricultural exporter, with $108.7 billion in farm products shipped abroad in 2010. Helping him increase the supply of agricultural products is the key to addressing both rising food prices and global shortages. His productivity is also critical to our country’s broader economic recovery.
So, you would think that the administration’s apparatchiks would be doing whatever they can to remove the regulatory impediments that farmers face. But you would be wrong. Consider several ways in which federal regulators are threatening agricultural productivity, both directly and indirectly.
Inflating Energy Costs. The White House and its allies in Congress have declared open warfare on carbon-based energy sources, such as oil, coal, and natural gas. After an abortive effort to ram a “cap and trade” carbon-tax measure through Congress, the administration now seeks to impose the same anti-energy regimen via edicts by the Environmental Protection Agency.
“The Obama administration is expected to roll out a major greenhouse gas policy for power plants and refineries,” Politico reported, “signaling it won’t back off its push to fight climate change in the face of mounting opposition on Capitol Hill.”
In addition to EPA actions, the administration’s Interior Department has cited the Gulf oil spill as its rationalization to impose a seven-year moratorium on drilling for new oil offshore. This, coupled with its continuing ban on oil exploration in Alaska’s ANWR region and elsewhere, has severely squeezed energy supplies, helping to drive up late-December crude oil prices to over $90 per barrel.
The administration’s war on oil and coal is hiking the fuel and electric bills of farmers and consumers alike. When EPA regulations cause energy costs to soar, food becomes far more expensive to produce and transport, both here and abroad. The impact of these onerous regulations shows up not just in our grocery bills, but also in a reduced global supply of food—the “food-supply crisis” that worried experts are predicting.
Regulating Farmers to Death. In addition to high energy costs, administration bureaucrats confront farmers with many more-direct regulatory obstacles.
On September 23, Senator Blanche Lincoln (D., Ark.) chaired a hearing of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry about “the impact of EPA regulation on agriculture.” She and a panel of speakers recited numerous burdens that the agency has foisted upon farmers: irrational “spray drift” pesticide rules; “wetlands” regulations that place even bone-dry fields off-limits to agricultural use; orders to build retaining walls around fuel tanks in the middle of fields and pastures; consistent bias toward environmentalists in Clean Water Act lawsuits; proposed ambient air-quality standards that would impose impossible dust-reduction requirements on farmers; contradictory orders from a host of federal agencies concerning compliance with the Endangered Species Act; and on it goes.