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Fighting for Rural Missouri Values

March 30, 2012

FOR PUBLICATION

A column by U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill

(537 words)

Folks in Missouri won't find it surprising that most people in Washington, D.C., just don't get what it means to be from rural America. Of the many lawmakers, lobbyists, and bureaucrats in the federal government, very few of them understand firsthand the opportunities and challenges that face Missouri's farmers and ranchers every day. And that lack of understanding shows in the kinds of rules and regulations they've proposed over the past year.

There was the proposal last summer, which if implemented, would have required local producers to have commercial driver's licenses to drive their equipment on roads in their own communities.

Folks from rural communities will tell you that a combine on the road is a common and welcome sight. So I stepped in, and-along with my colleagues from states like Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, and the Dakotas-stopped any such rules. In fact, the highway jobs bill that we recently passed in the Senate would exempt farmers who are transporting crops, livestock, and equipment within 150 miles of their farm, from any regulations intended for long-haul commercial truckers.

Late last year, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was reviewing possible new rules for "nuisance dust"-a category that includes simple farm dust from unpaved roads and everyday farming activity.  Any new limits from the EPA would have negatively impacted farming and ranching families across Missouri. 

This proposed rule was ridiculous and didn't take into account that dust in rural America is just a fact of life. Unless we're going to pave every road in the country, it's going to stay that way. So I told the EPA that any limit on how much dust can be kicked up on farms and ranches in our rural communities was flat wrong, and I introduced legislation to back that up. The EPA has backed down, and that proposed rule has been put down for good.

I am frustrated to have to report, however, that now we are faced with something just as unreasonable and potentially every bit as harmful. Some bureaucrats in Washington are talking about new child labor rules that could prevent our kids and grandkids from doing work on family farms and ranches.

Talk about out of touch.

These rules would threaten Missouri's agricultural industry and traditions, and deny our teenagers critical life skills and lessons. Young folks working on farms develop deep and long-lasting respect for hard work-and that's a Missouri value.

So I'm putting my foot down-again-and reminding the U.S. Labor Department that putting regulations between Missouri's rural youth and activities essential to their personal development is crossing a line. I've joined with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to demand a stop to any such rules. Specifically, I'm fighting to pass legislation with my fellow Senator John Thune, Republican from South Dakota, to prohibit the Labor Department from finalizing and enforcing such rules.

America's farm families are resilient and self-reliant.  But, whether it's resources for disaster response or guarding against excessive regulations, I've been proud to fight for our farming and ranching families here in the Senate when help is needed. 

Bureaucrats in Washington need a little Missouri common sense-and I plan to continue demanding it of them.

U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill was born in Rolla, Mo.

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