As we head toward the end of the year, several important national issues remain unresolved. It is very important that Congress address these issues and provide solutions this year, rather than letting these go over to the next Congress. Nothing is assured, however, in an election year, especially when there is any controversy attached.
Immigration Reform. For much of the year, Congress has been deadlocked over the issue of immigration reform. While the Senate has been receptive to reform proposals, the House has insisted on an enforcement-only approach. The Senate passed a bill in the spring that would have tightened border security while allowing guest workers to enter the country and giving undocumented immigrants a chance eventually to gain U.S. citizenship.

The bill passed by the Senate contains a complex, three-tiered system for dealing with the millions of illegal immigrants present in our country. Those who have lived in the United States for five years or longer would be permitted to stay and apply for citizenship provided they pay back taxes, learn English, and have no serious criminal record. Those who have been in this country between two and five years would eventually have to return to a point of entry in Mexico or Canada and apply for a green card, which would allow their immediate return. Illegal immigrants who have been in the United States for less than two years would be ordered to leave the country with no guarantee of return.

The Senate bill also contains a guest-worker program that would admit 200,000 individuals a year. The guest workers would eventually be allowed to obtain legal permanent residency. A separate program would admit an estimated 1.5 million immigrant farm workers who could also apply for permanent residency.

The House, however, took a far tougher line, passing a bill that would concentrate on border enforcement and make it a felony for an illegal alien even to be in the United States. House leaders made it clear that they had little interest in the Senate version.

The business community, including our industry, continues to press for a responsible and workable approach to the fact that there are at least ten million undocumented aliens in the country and that the vast majority of them came here to work. Immigrants fill millions of jobs that Americans simply will not take. Congress should deal with the reality of the situation before this session is ended.

CERCLA/EPCRA Reform. It would come as a great surprise to the typical broiler grower if you told him that he is running an industrial facility with a high potential for chemical spills. He would tell you he had a farm.


The problem is that some people are interpreting industrial pollution laws and regulations as if they applied to farms. This was clearly not the intent of Congress when it passed the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA) and the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act of 1986 (EPCRA).

CERCLA created “Superfund” to clean up the worst industrial toxic waste dumps and spills such as Love Canal and Times Beach. It taxes industries that create or utilize petrochemicals, inorganic raw chemicals and petroleum, among other things, used to make hazardous substances. Animal manure is clearly not among these materials.

EPCRA was adopted in the wake of the 1984 Union Carbide disaster in Bhopal, India. It requires companies to report releases of hazardous chemicals to local emergency responders. If this applied to chicken farms, in theory a grower might have to call the local fire department and say that he thought his chickens “released” a hundred pounds of ammonia today. Even if that were true, obviously the fire department wouldn’t roll out its engines to respond.

“As a member who participated in passing the Superfund laws, I assure you it was never Congress’s intent for CERCLA and EPCRA to be applied to agriculture,” says Congressman Ralph Hall (T-TX). “Manure is a beneficial fertilizer that has been used on farms for centuries.” Congressman Hall has more than 180 co-sponsors on his bill to clarify that manure is not covered by CERCLA and that farmers do not have to report “releases” under EPCRA. A companion bill in the Senate has more than 30 co-sponsors.