I had the chance to talk with Colin Woodall, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association’s (NCBA) point man in Washington, D.C., a week ahead of the election. Woodall was confident at that time that the power structure in Washington would not change; in the end he was right. Obama won reelection, while the control of the two chambers of Congress continued as it had been the two previous years.

After the election, I asked Woodall how he knew. After all, many political pundits were claiming surging Republican momentum in the run-up to the election, and several were even talking a Mitt Romney landslide. In addition, there was hopeful talk of a GOP majority in both chambers of Congress.

Woodall chuckled. “You know I’ve had a few folks ask me that same question. I don’t have a crystal ball; I was just going off the experience I've had here in previous election cycles. I’ve seen this too many times where Republicans get really confident and really excited, only to be disappointed because they didn’t do enough true groundwork. And that's what I was seeing going into last Tuesday. While I figured it would be much, much closer on the electoral vote side (332-206), the one thing I kept looking at was that Democrats in this town were not worried at all. And now we know why.”

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 So what will a second Obama term look like for U.S. beef producers? Woodall says most worrisome is the prospect of new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations.

“I think we really need to be worried about EPA regulations, as a lot of things we've been talking and hearing about the past four years will finally be implemented. The shackles are now off EPA and I think a second Obama administration means a really negative relationship with EPA.”

Before the end of 2012, Woodall expects to see both the dust rule and Clean Water Act (CWA) guidance move forward. “These are the two biggies we expect first. We're in a situation now where we're going to see just how far we can trust Lisa Jackson (EPA chief). She had committed that she was not going to add coarse particulate matter – ag dust – to her final dust rule. But since the rule didn't come out before the election, all bets are now off. That's something we are geared up for; making sure that we can keep the pressure on EPA to implement what she committed to us that she would, which is not to include ag dust.”

He calls the CWA guidance, which would change the federal definition of navigable waters “the biggie.” The rule would put all surface water under the jurisdiction of EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers.

“It would hit everybody out there with water on their property. What would happen basically is that farmers and ranchers would have to get CWA permits in order to utilize those bodies of water and the land around bodies of water. That would just really impact farming and ranching. We're talking about creeks, streams, brooks, dry streams, ephemeral streams, arroyos, playa lakes, in-ground stock tanks, and even potentially to the point that if you just have low spots that fill with water when it rains, then those could be considered waters of the U.S. It could be interpreted that broadly.”

Woodall says NCBA is preparing for this eventuality. “We're just trying to make sure we have our congressional friends ready with some options for us. We’re also making sure that we have our war chest built up so that we can potentially take them to court.”

While ag dust and CWA guidance are the two biggest threats looming on the environmental side, Woodall also expects more discussions regarding feedlots and confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs).

“Those will be under more scrutiny in the coming years. We also have the potential out there for regulators to move forward in classifying manure as a superfund element. And potentially really cause some problems for us in declaring feedlots superfund sites,” Woodall says

 He says the 2012 election results have dashed any hopes for reform of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). “We may see some ideas out of the House on this topic, but any measures will be dead on arrival in the Senate.”