By Peter Urban

By Peter Urban

Stephens Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — As he spoke before a House panel Thursday, Arkansas rice farmer Ray Vester left no doubt as to his frustration with the Environmental Protection Agency.

“We are dealing with an agency that writes rules and they don’t know what we do,” said Vester, a third generation farmer from Stuttgart. “They’ve spent their entire life on concrete.”

The latest? A regulation issued last month that will require him to get a permit to apply pesticides or herbicides that EPA already regulates through the manufacturer.

The draft of the legislation, Vester said, would dictate that the chemicals be used as a last resort when the weeds, insects, fungi or other pests are otherwise intolerable.

That micromanagement, he said, conflicts directly with common sense. Early action against weeds and pests is more effective and can be done with a minimum of chemicals.

As an example, Vester says it would be like delaying taking an antibiotic for a Strep infection until you’re near death.

Vester was invited to speak Thursday at a hearing of a House small business subcommittee designed to highlight agricultural concerns with EPA.

Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., who chaired the hearing, summed up his own concerns with EPA saying they are going beyond legislative intent in drafting regulations.

“EPA should not be writing legislation,” he said.

House Republicans have endorsed bills to block EPA from implementing several rules. Tipton noted that the House had passed a bill in March to block the pesticide regulation but the Senate has not acted.

The House passed the bill, 292-130, with the entire Arkansas and Oklahoma delegations in support.

Another concern, Tipton said, is farm dust – something that EPA had considered including as it rewrote regulations on coarse particulate matter. Although EPA has said it does not intend to make a more stringent rule, Tipton said the uncertainty remains.

Moreover, he said, farmers and ranchers face other proposed and potential regulations.

“It is imperative that we stop the advancement of these and other new job-killing government regulations,” Tipton said.

The House-approved bill will likely continue to languish in the Democratic-controlled Senate. Proponents of the permit requirement say it is needed to protect water quality and does not duplicate other regulations.

EPA issued the permit rule in response to a 2009 decision by the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals that included pesticides as potential pollutants under the Clean Water Act.