Commentary: First-person advocacy in D.C. makes a difference


Issue Date: May 13, 2015
By Josh Rolph
Josh Rolph
Farm Bureau leaders are visiting Washington, D.C., this week, where the Capitol dome is undergoing restoration work. Inside the Capitol, Congress will consider a number of issues important to California farmers and ranchers.
Photo/ Architect of the Capitol

One of my professional highlights each year is going to Washington, D.C., in May with the Leadership Farm Bureau class and other county Farm Bureau leaders. Our delegation is always a diverse group that shares ties to agriculture and a strong interest in making a difference. For many, it is their first time visiting our nation’s capital on an advocacy trip.

The main reason I enjoy the trip is because of how effective it is for advancing our organization’s policy priorities. Farm Bureau members, from my experience, are natural advocates.

When I was a staffer on Capitol Hill, I handled about a dozen policy issues and met with hundreds if not thousands of groups like ours from around California, all representing their interests before their congressional representative. I can say unequivocally that of all the groups I met, farmers and ranchers were the most educated and the most passionate. This and several other factors made them, by far, the most effective.

As a Farm Bureau employee in the Federal Policy Department, part of my job is to monitor and analyze legislation that impacts California agriculture, and find ways to promote good laws and fight bad laws. Alone, I can shout from the rooftops representing the organization and make an impact. But on these trips, I’ve seen Farm Bureau members like you shout from the rooftops and make a big impact in a way that I could not. The power of Farm Bureau is truly the grassroots.

If there was ever a need for the voices within California agriculture to be effective in our messages before our local, state and federal governments, that time is now. In addition to ongoing issues, whether immigration and labor shortages or the need for tax reform and expanded trade opportunities, the drought and resulting water crisis is a threat that overshadows them all.

Without water, there would be no need for employees because there would be no crop. Without water, the need for opening new foreign markets disappears because there is nothing to export. Without water, regulatory burdens evaporate because there is nothing left to regulate.

Half a million acres of irrigated cropland went out of production last year and a million could be idled this year. This is why we are turning to the federal government in our trip to Washington this week to educate Congress and the administration of the need for real solutions.

A lot can be done in Washington to improve upon current conditions. After all, federal regulatory decisions have been made in the last decade that have worsened the drought’s impact. The federal Endangered Species Act and the two biological opinions that govern operations of the Central Valley Project and State Water Project, for example, have resulted in zero percent CVP allocations with no measurable environmental benefit. Until laws such as the ESA take into consideration both environmental and human impacts, we can expect more illogical actions from the government.

A looming threat that could impose a regulatory burden that results in more water shortages for agriculture is a proposed rule that would greatly expand the Clean Water Act. The "waters of the U.S." proposal, which we call WOTUS for short, would turn ordinary land-use activities such as building a fence into a regulatory nightmare. We have a meeting with the Environmental Protection Agency this week, where we will share our repeated concern and desire for the administration to pull the proposal. If it doesn’t, we will continue to support legislation such as a bill coming before the House this week that would eliminate the rule.

Our approach to visiting Capitol Hill is to share the facts. Many remain unaware that California grows more than half of the nation’s fresh fruits, vegetables and nuts. We will also address questions such as, how much developed water do we use in California and what is the resulting economic impact on jobs? How will two years of 60 percent to 100 percent reductions in surface water usage affect the nearly 3 million California jobs tied to agriculture?

Trip participants will also be effective as they share their own personal stories. Congress gets very used to hearing facts and figures at the "macro" level. But there is nothing more powerful and moving than a personal story that demonstrates the impact of federal policies on an individual and family.

We will share our stories about water and the drought, and will do the same for the other issues currently being deliberated before Congress. A significant debate surrounds whether to grant the president "fast-track" or trade promotion authority. We unite with almost every agricultural organization in support of trade promotion authority. The proposed multilateral pact with Pacific Rim countries, Canada and Mexico, called the Trans-Pacific Partnership, is one of the biggest trade deals in years but will not move to the finish line without trade promotion authority.

We will share our labor- and tax-related experiences. With recent House Judiciary Committee passage of a mandatory E-Verify program, there is a real fear that Congress will pursue that course without passing a viable guestworker program. On taxes, the expired Section 179 tax deduction for equipment purchases is a problem for those wishing to make infrastructure improvements. Also of great concern is an administration proposal to repeal the estate tax’s stepped-up basis.

Biotech legislation, wildfire funding, illegal marijuana grows on farm and public property, and additional issues will be covered on our trip to D.C. There is never a shortage of topics and priorities to address. That’s why I look forward to traveling to Washington with Farm Bureau members who effectively advocate and truly make a difference.

(Josh Rolph is manager of federal policy for the California Farm Bureau Federation. He may be contacted at jrolph@cfbf.com.)

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