Shielding agriculture from overregulation

Shielding agriculture from overregulation
Two house bills introduced by Rep. Jacqueline Maycumber (R-7) are intended to prevent agricultural producers and food processors from leaving Washington state in response to carbon reduction policies.

A common warning from critics of proposed carbon emission reduction legislation is that affected industries might pick up and leave for other regions with less onerous regulations – and ultimately emit more carbon as a result. Two House bills sponsored by Rep. Jacqueline Maycumber (R-7) reflect those apprehensions by designating agricultural producers and food processors as

“Energy Intensive Trade Exposed” industries (EITE) and requiring the state Department of Ecology study the impacts of new environmental rules, with regulatory relief if needed.

“We think that any recognition of the carbon and energy intensity of the agricultural and food processing business is an important thing to be recognized and something to be dealt with,” Dan Coyne with Food Northwest told members of the House Environment & Energy Committee at a Feb. 18 public hearing.

According to the state Department of Agriculture, Washington grows more than 300 crops each year. As of 2017, Washington was the number one producer of apples in the nation and made up 70 percent of all apple production. It was also the highest-producing state for hops, pears, sweet cherries and blueberries.

However, the industry also consumes high levels of energy to not only produce but transport to market. HB 1984 would acknowledge this by classifying food processing facilities as EITEs, which is what Ecology did as part of its Clean Air Rule currently under litigation.

HB 1985 would, in the event a new greenhouse gas emission rule is enacted, allow agricultural producers to request Ecology compare the emissions created by the same product from an out-of-state producers. If the emissions from out-of-state produce is greater, then Ecology has to provide regulatory relief “to assure that the producer remains competitive in the global market.” The state agency would have to report to the legislature every year by Nov. 30 what regulatory relief it granted, if any.

As part of that analysis, the state Department of Commerce would have to collaborate with Ecology and transportation analysts to set up a shipping modeling tool to determine emissions generated by out-of-state produce.

“The agricultural industry really works off a small margin,” Maycumber told committee members. “We want to make sure that we don’t impact industries that benefit not only the health and environment of the state of Washington, but also the people. When we put overregulation on those, we actually hurt the industry when we talk about the trade overseas.”

Opposed to both bills was Ecology Air Quality Program Manager Stu Clark, who told lawmakers they should “not create a one-size-fits-all permanent future preemptive for a sector against any and all future policies. When you exempt a large sector of the economy from broadly applicable greenhouse gas policies, that may prevent the use of many effective low-cost carbon reduction strategies within that category. Such an exemption would shift the cost of responsibility onto other sectors of the economy and then unfairly saddle them with the burden of responding.”

He added that the provisions in HB 1984 would likely involve many requested analyses from the industry that would take weeks to complete. “We think this huge cost in time investment would be extensive.”

The bills are backed by Food Northwest, a trade association composed of 150 processor members and more than 350 suppliers. Coyne told committee members their members are already participating in a voluntary program to reduce their energy consumption by 25 percent by 2025. “That is the best way from the industry’s perspective to deal with carbon legislation.”

However, Coyne added that the industry is also designated as EITE for a limited number of years “that probably doesn’t deal with the significance of the problem for the agricultural industry.”

No further action is scheduled for either bill.

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