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Westmoreland farmers tell state senator about burden of ever-increasing federal and Pa. regulations

| Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012, 3:05 p.m.
State Sen. Kim Ward tours Rick Ebert's farm in Derry Township on Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2012. Ebert is vice president of the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau. Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
Fred Slezak, a Salem Township farmer, and state Sen. Kim Ward participate in a roundtable discussion on the impact of government regulations on the agricultural industry on a Derry Township farm on Tuesday Oct. 9, 2012. Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review

The ever-increasing number of federal and state conservation regulations is hurting the livelihoods of Westmoreland County farmers, state Sen. Kim Ward was told on Tuesday.

Ward, a Hempfield Township Republican, traveled to Rick Ebert's 400-acre farm along Livermore Road in Derry Township to listen to farmers' concerns over existing and proposed regulations under the Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Environmental Protection that create additional financial burdens.

“I'd like to see these departments use a little more common sense when it comes to some of these regulations,” said Ebert of Derry Township, vice president of the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau.

Fred Slezak, a third-generation farmer who raises grain on his farm of more than 400 acres off Route 119 in Salem Township, said he longs for the days when a phone call was able to settle a potential issue instead of dealing with numerous federal and state bureaucracies.

Instead, Slezak recalled opening a certified letter in July from the Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Services bureau informing him he was no longer in federal compliance with soil conservation regulations after inspectors discovered a “four-inch deep gully on a parcel.”

“Now, I've been a no-till farm for the last 20 years, and just had a conservation plan approved in 2007...yet they felt it necessary to send me a registered letter because they found a four-inch gully caused by a recent storm,” Slezak said.

Slezak, who theorizes the letter may be the result of a regulatory agency power struggle, told Ward that he has applied to the agency for a reconsideration of the issue in order to avoid a potential $1,000 citation.

Ebert, who with his brother, Bill, operates a dairy farm with 80 milking cows and also grows corn, hay and soybeans, said the state farm bureau has been keeping an eye on proposed changes to the Clean Water Act regarding the Chesapeake Bay watershed and believes each state, not the federal government, knows best how to implement water quality goals.

“We're all for good, clean water ... but a lot of this is way over the top,” Ebert said.

In addition to soil and water issues, Ebert noted the state farm bureau has been a voice for farmers on a number of issues including farmland preservation, commodity pricing, tort reform, property tax reduction, health insurance reform, Sunday hunting, water rights and wildlife management since 1950.

Ward said that such regulations need to be administered at an equal “standard, not to a particular ideology.”

“And I believe (state Department of Environmental Protection) Secretary Michael Krancer has tried to get that across in the department,” she said.

The roundtable was organized by the National Federation of Independent Business as part of its project, Small Businesses for Sensible Regulations.

More information is available at http://stopthetidalwave.org.

Paul Peirce is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-850-2860 or ppeirce@tribweb.com.

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