With more than 63,000 farms, agriculture is Pennsylvania's largest industry. From chicken and dairy farms to mushroom and apple growers, our farmers put food on our tables and play a critical role in our statewide economy.
Throughout my first two years in office, I have visited many farms and met with dozens of farmers to get their firsthand take on the challenges they face.
Their message has been clear and unambiguous - Washington's deluge of new regulations is impeding the growth and success of our farms. All too often, the bureaucrats in Washington are oblivious to the real-world implications of their actions. There is a growing bipartisan consensus that we should be pushing back against these excesses wherever we can.
For instance, I worked with Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) to pass an amendment to the 2012 highway bill to rid farmers of unnecessary paperwork requirements when they move heavy equipment and haul their products short distances to market.
The U.S. Transportation Department has demanded that states regulate farm vehicles much like they regulate long-haul truckers. If a farmer wants to use his truck to haul supplies across the street, he now has to keep time-consuming and complicated records. Our amendment - which has since been signed into law - makes it clear that states should decide what's best for their farmers and citizens, not bureaucrats in Washington.
This is the same principle my colleagues and I have conveyed to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency with regard to the Chesapeake Bay program. The EPA has devised a massive new regulatory framework to micromanage the nutrient and sediment runoff from Pennsylvania farms and other sources within the watershed.
I share the EPA's desire to have healthy, vibrant waterways, but the agency needs to be a cooperative partner, not an overbearing regulator. I will continue to press the case of Pennsylvania farmers with the EPA as this process unfolds and will seek legislative remedies as necessary.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the U.S. Labor Department issued a proposed rule regulating the types of work that children can do on their families' farms. To put this rule in context, 99 percent of Pennsylvania's farms are family owned and operated, and this new rule would impede their ability to operate.
I joined with a number of my Senate colleagues in co-sponsoring legislation to prevent this onerous rule from being implemented. We can debate the degree to which the federal government chooses to regulate our roads and waterways, but the federal government has no business dictating to parents how to raise their children. It belies an ideology that not only believes in an ever larger government, but an ideology that says government always knows best - even when it comes to our own families.
And thanks to our efforts, the administration announced it would not implement the proposed rule, leaving families free to have their children work on their farms as they feel is appropriate.
Additionally, to make sure that family farms are able to be passed down from generation to generation, I have co-sponsored legislation (S. 2245) to permanently repeal the death tax. This tax disproportionately hurts family farmers, unfairly forcing them to choose between selling their farmland or paying the IRS after the death of a family member.
Unfortunately, these issues are just the tip of the iceberg for Pennsylvania's farmers. Federal red tape continues to grow and stifle our farmers, making it harder for them to stay in business.
I'll take their advice to Washington and work with my colleagues in the Senate to fight against excessive government. For the sake of our farm families and Pennsylvania's economy, this is a fight we cannot afford to lose.