A bipartisan group of senators, joined by Republican  lawmakers in the House, have called for OSHA to halt an  unprecedented effort to regulate small farms. EPA has not  been spared either. 

Forty-two senators wrote to Labor Secretary Thomas Perez  earlier this month urging OSHA to stop what they called  unlawful regulation of family farms.  In separate  correspondence, majority members of the House Committee  on Education and the Workforce took their complaint directly  to OSHA Assistant Secretary David Michaels.  Congress has  exempted farms with 10 or fewer employees from OSHA  regulations since 1978, Committee members said.

Lawmakers’ concerns arise from a June 2011 OSHA  memorandum that removes on-farm grain storage and  handling operations from exempted farm operations.  In their  letter, the senators said the use of grain bins and grain drying  equipment is an integral part of many farming operations and  cannot be separated as a non-farming activity.

Perez was asked to respond by February 1 with a list of  small farms that reportedly had been fined thousands of  dollars because of being incorrectly categorized as nonfarming activities.  The House members gave OSHA until  January 28 to deliver documents and communications  regarding its policy change.

At the same time, legislators have gone to bat for farmers  against EPA over a spill prevention, control and  countermeasures (SPCC) rule the agency was to begin  enforcing in September 2013.  The regulation would require  farmers with an aggregate above-ground storage capacity of  1,320 gallons or more for petroleum and animal fat products  to have a written spill plan and a containment dike around  containers of 55-gallons or larger.  EPA has notified farmers it  would enforce the act retroactively.  

Legislation currently before Congress, if approved, would  settle the matter.  The latest version of a bill calls for a  professionally written spill plan for farmers with aboveground storage of more than 20,000 gallons, a single  container holding more than 10,000 gallons or a past  reported spill. If the aggregate above-ground storage  capacity is between 6,000 and 20,000 gallons, the plan may  be written by the farmer personally.

The measure further directs EPA to consult with the  Department of Agriculture to study the effect of  exempting facilities with above-ground storage between  2,500 and 6,000 gallons based on the risk of discharge to  water. The Senate has passed the measure, which now  awaits House action.