USDA v fracking or v farmers?

22 Mar 2012

Recently, it has been rumored, in the New York Times of all places, that the USDA is considering subjecting farm mortgages to evaluation under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) if those farms have oil or gas wells on them – particularly fracking wells.   Here in Michigan, it is not uncommon for farmers to lease minerals to development companies and is becoming more and more common.

The NEPA’s basic policy is to assure that all branches of government give proper consideration to the environment prior to undertaking any major federal action that could significantly affect the environment.  When people talk about Environmental Impact Statements (EIS’s) – that is a NEPA requirement.  NEPA requirements typically go into effect when airports, buildings, military complexes, highways, parkland purchases and other federal activities with the potential for impacts are proposed.  Environmental Assessments (EA’s) and EIS’s, which are assessments of the likelihood of impacts from alternative courses of action, are required from all federal agencies.  The central element in the environmental review process is a rigorous evaluation of alternatives including the “no action” alternative.

While the cumulative backing of farm loans by the USDA may be significant, threatening to force every farmer in America with a gas well on his/her property to have to go through the EA (or more rigorous EIS) process seems downright anti-farm.  Are they going to do the same for mortgages on wind farms? This seems like something that can best be addressed by regulation of the fracking industry – not stalling farm financing.

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