WASHINGTON — Farm groups are trying to determine how President Clinton and the new Congress will balance agricultural interests with the need for cleaner water and safer food.
Though the Administration's new direction won't be clear until more appointments are in place, there's little doubt that farmers and ranchers will be affected by environmental bills.
"We're very concerned because the EPA as opposed to the USDA is probably going to have more to say about the success or non-success of farmers," said Dean Kleckner, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, the nation's largest farm group.
Kleckner and others identified reauthorization of the Clean Water Act and a couple of pesticide bills as areas in which farmers could be told to make undue sacrifices.
The clean water bill is important because of the need to tackle so-called "non-point" sources of pollution--pollution that washes into streams, rivers and lakes rather than spilling from factories and sewer systems.
The Environmental Protection Agency has identified pollution from agricultural soil erosion, pesticides and fertilizers as the main culprits.
Farm interests want to be sure that any requirements are voluntary and federal dollars are there to help pay for adhering to the law.
"Most of the money that's been spent for environmental cleanup has gone for point-source pollution," said Barbara Webb, spokeswoman for the National Farmers Union.
They also want to be sure that more research is done to determine how much pollution agriculture really causes.
The clean water bill is also important because of its language on wetlands, environmentally sensitive land that includes swamps, bogs and marshes.
The National Academy of Sciences is studying the newest set of definitions, but the Farm Bureau wants Congress to go ahead and determine which wetlands are really important and which can be farmed without hurting the environment.
The likely debate on two pesticide bills will determine how much spraying can be done and how much residue ends up in food at the supermarket.
The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act empowers the EPA to regulate pesticide use and allows a consideration of risks versus benefits.
The federal Food Drug and Cosmetic Act tells the EPA to ban all food additives, including pesticides, that are potential carcinogens, no matter the amount.
The Farm Bureau says Congress needs to replace the no-risk standard for pesticides in food products with one permitting a negligible risk.
"There needs to be additional cooperation between the USDA and EPA to make sure that pesticide regulations do not interfere with normal farming practices," Webb, of the Farmers Union, added.
Environmental activities might be budget-driven as well. Conservation groups such as the Center for Resource Economics and the American Farmland Trust view support programs as a possible target when the Administration tries to cut the deficit.
Cutting the daily $30 million in supports would discourage current overproduction, with some of the money diverted to existing environmental programs in the Farm Bill such as one paying farmers to preserve or restore wetlands.
"By re-examining our spending priorities, we can achieve win-win situations in which both the environment, including agricultural resources, and the economy are benefited," said Edward Thompson Jr., director of public policy for the American Farmland Trust.