Rep. Glenn 'GT' Thompson, Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee's Subcommittee on Conservation, Energy, and Forestry, held a public hearing Thursday to review the interpretive rule regarding the applicability of Clean Water Act (CWA) agricultural exemptions.
The CWA was signed into law in 1972 with an intent to preserve water quality in the United States by regulating discharges of pollution into the country's water system. Although the intent of the CWA was for the Federal government to regulate navigable waters, recent court decisions have brought into question which bodies of water the CWA has jurisdiction over. In response to the legal uncertainty, EPA proposed a rule to further clarify the waters of the United States.
Additionally, EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued an interpretive rule to explain how the proposed rule would impact CWA exemptions for agricultural activities. This interpretive rule was drafted in consultation with the Natural Resources Conservation Service and was the focus of the hearing. USDA, EPA and the Corps signed a memorandum of understanding between the three agencies spelling out how the three agencies would coordinate implementing the interpretive rule.
Today, the subcommittee members examined to what extent the interpretive rule will offer producers certainty regarding permitting needs for CWA exemptions and whether or not the interpretive rule will encourage producers to engage in future conservation practices.
"There is growing concern the newly proposed rule released by the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps poses a grave threat to the economic vitality and ecological health of our farming communities," said Chairman Glenn 'GT' Thompson (R-PA-05). "The Administration has argued this rule is intended to eliminate ambiguity and offer greater protections for producers and landowners, when in fact it will create new regulatory burdens, more ambiguity, and less certainty. The subcommittee received testimony today from agriculture stakeholders on how these new requirements will also ultimately discourage farmers and landowners from engaging in conservation practices, which is of fundamental concern. We remain committed to provide oversight that will ultimately clarify the intent, scope, and impact of these new authorities. Today’s hearing is the beginning, not the end, of the dialogue on this important topic that affects all counties, local municipalities and landowners in the United States."
"This hearing gives us the opportunity to discuss the issue of clean water and the impact of agricultural conservation programs on rural communities," said Ranking Member Timothy J. Walz (D-MN-01). "As we move forward, we need more clarity and we need our farmers and sportsmen to speak up and speak out to ensure Congress strikes the right balance."