EPA in hot water over proposed CWA rule
Despite a recent public relations campaign through Missouri farm country to attempt to calm the waters about the proposed changes to the definition of “Waters of the United States” under the Clean Water Act, EPA continues to take heat from farmers and ranchers, and lawmakers.
After initially calling the proposal “ag friendly” and agreeing with EPA that it “clarifies Clean Water Act jurisdiction, maintains agricultural exemptions and adds new exemptions, and encourages enrollment in USDA conservation programs,” the National Farmers Union last week sent a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy seeking more information about what water and land features will fall under federal jurisdiction if the rule is finalized as it is proposed.
After a conference call between Administrator McCarthy and the NFU board of directors, NFU President Roger Johnson says a number of questions were raised.
“The board asked for clarity surrounding some of the definitions in the proposed rule. The general sense was that the proposed rule created less clarity, not more as intended,” Johnson said.
Specifically, NFU asked for more information related to jurisdiction of wetlands, vernal pools, intermittent waters and ditches, the expected process and timeline for making determinations, locations around the country where increases in jurisdictional acres are expected, and the definition of “standard farming practice.” In the letter, Johnson said failure to reduce confusion and anxiety surrounding jurisdiction will “lead to more resentment in rural America.”
NFU was not the only farm group raising concern with the proposal last week. The American Farm Bureau Federation, which has been a vocal opponent of the proposal with its Ditch the Rule campaign, responded to a June 30 blog post by Nancy Stoner, EPA acting assistant administrator for water, titled “Setting the Record Straight on Waters of the U.S.” AFBF issued a document challenging Stoner point-by-point on claims made in the blog post.
For example, Stoner said in the blog that “The proposed Waters of the U.S. rule does not regulate new types of ditches, does not regulate activities on land, and does not apply to groundwater.” AFBF countered saying “Current rules do not include ditches. Agencies have informally interpreted rules to include ditches as “tributaries.” We disagree! Now, the new rule would categorically define almost all ditches as “tributaries” (79 Fed. Reg. 22203-04). With regard to the claim about activity on land, AFBF said this, “Yes, the proposed rule would regulate activities on land that is usually dry but where water channels and flows or ponds when it rains. The rule calls these areas “ephemeral streams,” “wetlands” and “seasonal ponds” – but to most people, they look like land.”
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