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Published September 28, 2010, 07:26 PM

Boucher: Work With Fuel Tank Rules, Don't Complain

Republican Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring should focus on how to help North Dakota farmers comply with new federal rules on fuel storage tanks instead of complaining about them, Democratic rival Merle Boucher said Tuesday.

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Republican Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring should focus on how to help North Dakota farmers comply with new federal rules on fuel storage tanks instead of complaining about them, Democratic rival Merle Boucher said Tuesday.

The Environmental Protection Agency rules, which take effect Nov. 10 for most North Dakota farms, apply to farmers who store more than 1,320 gallons of fuel in above-ground tanks on their land. Goehring estimates the benchmark could include about 18,000 farming operations.

The rules are intended to protect water supplies. They require that affected farms have plans for handling oil spills, including measures for cleaning spills and preventing them from reaching water. Many plans would require farmers to hire an engineer to design and certify their plans.

A North Dakota State University extension service bulletin about the rules advises farmers to keep records of the locations and contents of fuel containers that are 55 gallons or larger, along with a list of emergency contacts.

Boucher is running against Goehring for Agriculture Commissioner in November. He said during a Tuesday news conference that the rules have been in effect for decades but have not been previously enforced against farms. He said some state agencies could provide compliance help, including the Water Commission, the Bank of North Dakota and a state Insurance Department fund that helps finance cleanups of leaking fuel tanks.

For example, the Water Commission could help farmers design compliance plans and review them, and the Bank of North Dakota could provide short-term loans to cover costs, Boucher said. North Dakota's agriculture commissioner sits on the Water Commission and is one of three members of the state Industrial Commission, which is the board of directors for the state-owned Bank of North Dakota.

"There's a lot of options, and I think the time has come to pursue the options, to make it work," Boucher said.

Goehring said he became aware of pending EPA changes to the rules in February. He believes the agency has done little to make farmers aware of them, and they have not budgeted this year for fuel tank safety changes that could be required, he said.

"The problem is, you have people designing and developing policy and rules that have no understanding of agriculture and how it functions," Goehring said.

At minimum, farmers should be given another year to comply with the rules, Goehring said.

Federal officials "seem to want to continue to have excessive ... regulation throughout our industry," he said. "They throw all these rules out, but they don't even take the time to tell anybody."

Boucher said he would support a minimum extension of 18 months. The agriculture commissioner, however, should avoid bashing the rules, which could prompt a backlash from federal officials, he said.

"Once we go through the arguments — 'This is nasty, I am angry about this' — I have had the biggest share of the producers say yes, indeed, in the end it's probably something that's in our best interest," Boucher said.

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