Rock Katschnig, a corn and soybean farmer in Prophetstown, Illinois, spoke for millions of business owners this week when making a polite appeal to President Obama: “Please don’t challenge us with more rules and regulations from Washington, D.C., that hinder us.”
The scene: A “town hall” forum on the third and final day of the President’s “Get on the Bus” tour of the rural Midwest. Following his 17-minute lecture on the evils of politics (!), as well as the urgent need for “shared sacrifice” (i.e., higher taxes), Obama invited questions from the “folks” in the audience.
First up was Katschnig. The President responded to the farmer’s request by inquiring whether there is a particular rule he is worried about. To which Katschnig replied: “We hear what’s coming down about noise pollution, dust pollution, water runoff. Sometimes the best approach is just common sense, and we are already using that.”
Obama responded: “Here’s what I’d suggest is, the—if you hear something is happening, but it hasn’t happened, don’t always believe what you hear.” The President went on to suggest that any farmer with a regulatory concern ought to simply “contact USDA,” and “find out what it is that you’re concerned about.”
(In other words, Farmer Katschnig, you don’t know what you’re talking about.)
Actually, though, it’s the President who is clueless, which certainly surprised Katsching.
“With all due respect to the President, I don’t believe I was the one who was misinformed,” he said in an interview Friday with the Heritage Foundation. “Coming into farm country, I was surprised he wasn’t more informed.”
Indeed. The fact is, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is seriously contemplating much more stringent requirements to control dust (aka “particulate matter”). A notice in the Federal Register of April 22—Earth Day—announced that the agency has completed its analysis of policy options in the matter—a four-year endeavor. Now, all that remains to be done is for EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson (and, presumably, the White House) to decide whether to impose yet more costly and unwarranted regulations on farms and the multitude of other businesses already wobbling under the weight of existing federal dictates.
So radical are the dust regulations that 21 Senators signed a letter to Jackson objecting to the proposed standards as “the most stringent and unparalleled regulation of dust in our nation’s history.”
“These identified levels will be extremely burdensome for farmers and livestock producers to attain,” the letter states. “Whether it’s livestock kicking up dust, soybeans being combined on a dry day in the fall, or driving a car down the gravel road, dust is a naturally occurring event.”
Katschnig is likewise justified in his concern about new regulations governing water runoff. The EPA is in the midst of crafting new rules to control stormwater runoff and is considering suggestions from a variety of groups, including state water system administrators, to increase requirements for farms.
As for the President’s advice that Katschnig “talk to (USDA) directly,” Politico reporter M.J. Lee attempted to do just that—with dismal results. As he tells it, “I found myself in a bureaucratic equivalent of hot potato — getting bounced from the feds to Illinois state agriculture officials to the state farm bureau.”
Lee was forced to surrender his quest after 10 different calls yielded no information—and receipt of an email from USDA stating that the dust regulation does not fall within the agency’s jurisdiction.
It would be unreasonable to expect any President to be familiar with every regulation under consideration across his Administration. (Indeed, the federal regulatory ranks now number 271,000 full-time employees.) But in this instance, the problem is not that he doesn’t know the details. The problem is his apparent imperviousness to the consequences of regulatory extremism.
Since taking office in January 2009, the Obama Administration has imposed 75 new major regulations with reported costs to the private sector exceeding $40 billion. No other President has burdened businesses and individuals with a higher number and larger cost of regulations in a comparable time period.
As reported today in The Washington Post, Obama is on track to become the first President in the modern era to score negative job growth. In all likelihood, this wouldn’t be the case if he would recognize the concerns of hard-working citizens and curb his regulatory impulses. A Katschnig put it, “There’s a phrase going around about this Administration—that it’s never seen a regulation it didn’t like.”