Ag Policy: Plenty Of Fertilizer Issues Ahead

It would be tough, if not impossible, to begin this column in any other way than with two words: West and Texas.

The April explosion in the small Texas town of West triggered a landslide of media and government attention aimed squarely at the fertilizer industry. That attention continues to this day and will no doubt impact an already packed policy agenda for 2014.

The repercussions of West were felt at the highest level of government as Congressional leaders quickly pushed the Obama Administration to take steps to improve coordination among Federal regulatory agencies. In August of last year, President Barak Obama issued an Executive Order that called for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to coordinate regulatory efforts with a specific focus on ammonium nitrate.

As a part of this process, these Federal agencies are holding listening sessions in Washington, DC, as well as in select states. TFI is participating in these sessions because the input from these sessions could very well impact any new regulations. Because first-hand testimony is so important in these situations, we are working with our allies in the state association community to support their participation as well.

In our listening session comments, we are expressing our support for the Administration’s initiative to improve coordination among government agencies in this area and asking agencies to re-examine existing regulations and practices. We are also pointing out that we have long supported reasonable regulations and further, have urged the Department of Homeland Security to finalize its new rules on secure handling of ammonium nitrate.

EPCRA To Vanish?

As a result of the West, TX, accident, the fertilizer retail exclusion for reporting under the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act (EPCRA) will likely disappear in 2014. The Fertilizer Institute (TFI) has gone on the record as supporting removal of this exclusion. Particularly in the wake of West, we believe that it is incumbent on all retailers to report hazardous chemicals stored on site to emergency response organizations such as Local Emergency Planning Committees (LEPC) and State Emergency Response Commissions (SERC) and to work with local fire departments without exception. However, we also expressed our belief that this reporting should be limited to hazardous chemicals so that emergency responders aren’t overburdened with unnecessary information.

Also, as recommended in the Executive Order, we support efforts to coordinate between state and federal agencies, cross-reference databases and federal coordination on inspections to minimize facility time and agency resources. We are asking all retailers who are not already doing so to contact local emergency responders and invite them into their facilities so that they will have a clear understanding of the business of fertilizer.

Water, Other Issues

While the policy implications resulting from West, TX, are huge, they are just additions to an already full plate in the legislative and regulatory arena. Policy related to nutrients and water quality remains a major area of activity. Our legal challenge to EPA’s implementation of the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load will be taking its next step as we join our agriculture allies in appealing a District Court ruling in favor of EPA. We believe that this case will set a precedent for how EPA moves forward with inter-state nutrient regulation. If the 3rd Circuit grants the appeal they could hear arguments and rule by summer 2014.

As in past years, transportation policy will remain a critical issue in 2014. On the rail side, we anticipate that due to several high-profile accidents in 2013, the Rail Safety Act will be on the congressional agenda. We will closely monitor activity to make sure that any new legislation does not have a negative impact on the transportation of anhydrous ammonia.

A modern and efficient waterway system is necessary for the timely delivery of close to 70 million tons of crop nutrients each year. As such, we will continue to actively engage as Congress takes what we hope will be the final steps in finalizing the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA). Provisions in the bill addressing funding for waterway improvements on the nation’s river transportation system are of critical importance to the industry’s ability to serve our grower-customers in a timely and efficient manner.

Each year, the scope and complexity of policy issues impacting the fertilizer industry increases. As we witnessed after the West Fertilizer explosion, even separate arms of the Federal government are unaware of others’ actions, thus tremendously challenging regulated industries such as ours. Further, with each passing year, a diminishing number of people in Washington understand agriculture and its vital role. In this environment, the industry needs a strong and consistent voice. We aim to serve that function in 2014 and in years to come.

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