As Republicans battle proposed farm dust regulations from the Obama Administration, an Illinois farmer becomes a political symbol for the GOP...
Illinois farmer Rock Katschnig interacted with President Obama last month at a town hall in Atkinson, Illinois, and he has become a GOP symbol for all that is wrong with the Obama Administration's efforts to create jobs. House Speaker John Boehner invited Katschnig, a fourth generation corn and soy farmer, to sit with his dozen-plus guests in the House Gallery on Thursday evening to watch President Obama unveil the American Jobs Act. Boehner identified Katschnig and his other guests as "private-sector job creators" who are "American employers being hampered by excessive regulations from Washington." (Above: Boehner met with his guests before the President's speech; Katschnig is seated beside Boehner, in the blue tie)
In Illinois, Katschnig told President Obama that he was worried that proposed federal regulations for dust management, water run off and noise would "hinder" his farming business. The President essentially dismissed Katschnig's concerns, calling them "unfounded," and said "don't believe everything you hear." Of course Boehner has now adopted the farmer: He was ripe for the plucking, since he's from the President's homestate.
Boehner now features the farmer in a video on his website, in which Katschnig amplifies his dusty concerns. And the proposed "farm dust regulation" from the Environmental Protection Agency is getting major play from the GOP: It is number five on Majority Leader Eric Cantor's list of Top Ten Job Destroying Regulations.
In August, Cantor announced that he plans to add a vote on a dust bill in the House later this year, as part of the GOP's jobs agenda. Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb) and Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) have introduced a companion measure in the Senate.
Katschnig makes an appearance in Lucas' letter to EPA...
On Thursday, House Agriculture Committee Chair Frank D. Lucas (R-OK-3) also got in on the dust-up, sending a letter to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson, requesting "a response to a list of questions from a bipartisan group of lawmakers that was submitted to her agency nearly six months ago." The letter includes a request for a statement on EPA's position on rural dust and other regulations--and also mentions the President's exchange with Katschnig.
"Our constituents are concerned that regulations under consideration on a variety of issues ranging from dust to gypsum will be costly, difficult to implement, and unworkable for farmers and ranchers," Lucas wrote to Jackson. "On a recent trip to Illinois, President Obama called these concerns “unfounded.” In testimony at our March 10, 2011 hearing on EPA regulations and agriculture, you mentioned “myths” about EPA’s intentions and said that mischaracterizations of your agency’s actions prevent 'real dialogue to address our greatest problems.'"
The EPA currently has more than 300 regulations under consideration, which could affect issues ranging from farm dust to federal jurisdiction over small streams and ponds, according to Lucas. He claims that by 2014, EPA regulations will cost Americans anywhere from $47 billion to $141 billion, and eliminate between 476 thousand and 1.4 million jobs.
Lucas asked Jackson for an immediate response to his query. The letter is here [PDF].
Grassley also issued a press release on farm dust.
“In each of my most recent town hall meetings, the excessive amount of regulations coming out of Washington, D.C. and the impact on small businesses and rural communities was a top issue,” Grassley said. “The dust rule is a perfect example. It makes no sense to regulate the dust coming out of a combine harvesting soybeans or the dust off a gravel road of a pick-up truck traveling into town. If the administration were to decide to revise the standard, farmers and livestock producers will likely be unable to attain the standard levels and the rural economy would be devastated.”
Meantime, Rep. Kristi Noem (R-S.D.) said in a press release that a bill she has introduced with Rep. Robert Hurt (R-VA), to stop EPA from implementing stricter dust standards, is gaining momentum, thanks to Cantor and Grassley.
“These developments are a clear indication that we’re gaining momentum for the commonsense idea that rural America, including South Dakota, doesn’t need any more dust regulation at this point,” Noem said.
Dust regulations are covered under EPA's Clean Air Act, which is reviewed every five years. EPA has issued no decision on what it plans to do with farm dust, urban dust, or other regulatory issues that Lucas and the rest of the GOP are focused on. It's a complicated calculation.
In a post today on the White house blog, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack hailed the American Jobs Act as a boon for farmers and rural Americans. There was no mention of farm dust or any other kind of agriculture regulations.
How Katschnig became Joe the Farmer...
At the Atkinson town hall, President Obama was well meaning but a bit blithe as he answered Katschnig's query. Katschnig told the President he had "heard" that the Administration is planning new regulations for farming operations, and said he wasn't thrilled about this. (Above: President Obama speaking in Atkinson)
"Mother Nature has really challenged us this growing season -- moisture, drought, whatever," Katschnig said. "Please don’t challenge us with more rules and regulations from Washington, D.C., that hinder us from doing that. We would prefer to start our day in a tractor cab or combine cab rather than filling out forms and permits to do what we’d like to do."
"If you hear something is happening, but it hasn’t happened, don’t always believe what you hear," President Obama told Katschnig, and advised him to call USDA to get a response to his concerns.
Problem is, the regulations Katschnig was asking about are not questions USDA typically addresses, since they are under the rubric of EPA. The exchange between the farmer and the President made national headlines when a reporter from Politico took Mr. Obama's advice, and called USDA, It resulted in a ping-pong game of referrals to different offices--and no answer to the question.
Three days later, USDA spokesman Justin DeJong told the subscription-only The Hagstrom Report that the Department would be changing how it responds to farmers' queries--including those regarding EPA regulations. But DeJong declined to give specifics on what this would entail. When Obama Foodorama asked DeJong for further details, he again declined to elaborate.
So Katschnig was a ball ready to be played by the GOP. He could well become the Joe the Farmer for Campaign 2012, this election's version of Joe the Plumber, who is Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher of Ohio. Wurzelbacher achieved national status after he queried Candidate Obama about small business tax policy during a 2008 campaign stop in Ohio. The McCain-Palin Campaign subsequently adopted the plumbing contractor as a metaphor for struggling middle-class Americans.
"One proposed regulation on “particulate matter” (dust) would devastate Katschnig’s industry and destroy many farming jobs," notes the blurb that accompanies Katschnig's video on Boehner's website.
UPDATE, Sept. 17, 2011: Katschnig story in GOP's Weekly Address, given by Rep. Peter Roskam
Rep. Peter Roskam (R-ILL-6) House Chief Deputy Whip, repeats Katschnig’s story at 2:48 in this video, in which he calls Washington "a red tape factory" producing regulations enforced by "unelected" "faceless" bureaucrats that will cost business owners millions in profits and inhibit job creation.
"One Illinois farmer stood up at a town hall meeting last month and pleaded with the president," Roskam says. "He said, 'please don't challenge us with more rules and regulations from Washington.' I couldn't have said it better myself. That farmer was one of several job creators who attended [the] president's speech to the Congress as guests of House Speaker John Boehner."
Roskam has also come out swinging against the Obama Administration for the proposed FTC voluntary principles for marketing foods to children, which he also claims will destroy jobs. A post about the issue IS HERE.
*Photo of Boehner from the Speaker's Office; photo of President Obama by Pete Souza/White House. Video from Speaker Boehner.