Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Major Environmental Legislation and EPA Regulations

In my last post on EPA regulation of agriculture, I looked at the majority party in the House, Senate, and the party of the President from 1974 to 2014. Some of it lined up with what I think most people, including me, would assume (i.e. Democrat control means more regulation), but much of it didn't. I suspect part of this is a function of our short memories but a good portion of it could be the relative independence with which regulators operate. They don't necessarily need legislative mandates to change the regulatory environment. One other thing to keep in mind: the regulations in this index can apply to any aspect of agriculture. Regulatory restrictions on forestry, crop farming, ranching, concentrated animal feeding operations, and aquaculture are all included in this index.

In this post I want to show some major legislation and regulatory actions laid over the same 1974-2014 regulatory restrictions data. I don't know if the events I identify on the chart are the causes of subsequent increases in regulation. I picked most of these events off the EPA History website, so the agency itself believes they're significant. If and when I dig into the RegData data for a research project, I'll be able to tell a more interesting story.

The graph shows EPA regulatory restrictions on agriculture. Data were taken from the RegData Database at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. The data are counts of restrictive words in the Code of Federal Regulations such as "cannot," "must," "shall," etc weighted by the probability that the particular Title and Part apply to agriculture. This time I converted the restrictions count into an index (something the Center recommends) in part to make it easier to see just how much regulatory growth the ag industry has experienced. In 2014, there was 492% more regulation on agriculture than there was in 1974.

The first vertical bar indicates the passing of the Clean Water Act of 1977. This act includes Section 404, which is part of the WOTUS controversy we're seeing today. While Section 404 doesn't apply to typical farm operations, it does require a federal permit when "dredged material" is released into a "water of the United States." One thing to point out: the reduction in regulation over the next few years is no indication of how many regulations the Clean Water Act of 1977 generated. It takes time even today for regulations to be written (see this chart of banking regulation post-Dodd-Frank), so this 1977 legislation could very well be an important part of the big run up in regulation that occurred in the 1980s.

Major amendments to the Endangered Species Act were passed in 1978, 1979, and 1982. The EPA's Office of Pesticide Programs is charged with implementing important aspects of the Endangered Species Act. EPA regulation of agriculture increased dramatically after the last of these amendments.

In 1986, the EPA created the Office of Wetlands Protection. It goes without saying that much of the EPA's intervention in agriculture is focused on water issues and the creation of an Office of Wetlands Protection was probably a sign of more regulations to come.

Beyond the mid 1980s I was unable, in the short amount of time I spent looking, to find other major legislation that very clearly impacted agriculture. I'm interested in any suggestions the reader may have on other legislation I could add to the graph.

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