American Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman on Wednesday said a thorough review of the Environmental Protection Agency's March 25 Waters of the U.S. proposal has revealed "dismaying" consequences to the ag industry.
"The EPA proposal poses a serious threat to farmers, ranchers and other landowners," Stallman noted in a press statement.
The proposal is a long-awaited document from the EPA that will determine what is considered a "water of the United States." According to the EPA, if a water body is a water of the U.S., it may be regulated under the Clean Water Act. The proposal is now under 90 days of public review and comment.
According to Stallman, the new proposed rules determine that "waters – even ditches – are regulated even if they are miles from the nearest 'navigable' waters. Indeed, so-called ‘waters’ are regulated even if they aren’t wet most of the time," he said.
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Stallman said a main concern for the Farm Bureau isn't necessarily that producers would have to get permits for regular land use activities, it's more that there is no legal right to a Clean Water Act permit.
"If farming or ranching activities need a permit, EPA or the Army Corps of Engineers can deny that permit," he argues. "That’s why Clean Water Act jurisdiction over farmlands amounts to nothing less than federal veto power over a farmer’s ability to farm."
Other groups have presented similar concerns with the proposal. The National Cattlemen's Beef Association, for example, says it has the potential to make everything fall under federal authority by taking the power to enforce clean water regulations from the states.
There's also concern about ag exemptions, which NCBA Environmental Counsel Ashley McDonald on Tuesday said do not go far enough.
"They have provided some exclusions for certain types of ditches … but again the analysis and the amount of time and effort that producers are going to have to go through to look at every segment of ditch on their property to see if it's excluded or not, that's not what we are asking for," she said.
McDonald said other proposed exemptions for conservation activities simply create confusion and layers of separate permits for distinct activities.
"You can see exactly how complicated and convoluted this regulation actually is," she said. "It's going to provide farmers and ranchers with zero clarity."
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Stallman agreed, suggesting that the specific conservation exemptions apply only to "dredge and fill" permit requirements.
"They do not protect farmers from federal veto power over pest and weed control, fertilizer application, and other essential farming activities that may result in the addition of ‘pollutants’ to ‘navigable waters,’ – providing one views every ditch and wet spot across the landscape as ‘navigable waters,'" he said.