In a hearing with the Environmental Protection Agency on Feb. 11, members of the House of Agriculture Committee discussed with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy on the agency’s impact on the rural economy.

One of the main topics of discussion was the so called “waters of the United States” rule, or WOTUS, including the agency’s use of social media for grassroots lobbying in favor of the regulation. In December 2015, the Government Accountability Office ruled EPA broke federal law, violating an anti-lobbying provision, however, during Thursday’s hearing with the House of Agriculture, Administrator McCarthy stood firmly behind the agency’s actions.

“You broke the law,” Representative David Scott (D-Ga.) commented. “It needs to be admitted, it needs to be recognized and furthermore you spent taxpayer’s money in the lobbying. And, the GAO reports it’s $64,610 that you spent in lobbying from February 2014 to 2015. Now, let’s come clean with this so we can correct this. There’s no way you’re going to correct this if you don’t realize that you’ve drastically overstepped here.”

During the hearing’s questioning process, Administrator McCarthy made clarification on EPA’s previous claim that agriculture exemptions from the rule for waterway ditches were automatic, and instead would be subjected to government approval.

“The way in which the law works is that if there is a question that you’re going to be destroying or polluting what might be a water… the individual landowner might be concerned that their activity would be doing that and they may need a permit… on their private land or elsewhere,” Administrator McCarthy said. “Then that question is raised by that landowner and they ask the appropriate questions, that usually and often goes to USDA or others and filters its way through.”

The regulatory agenda is a main concern of Agriculture Committee members, said Chairman K. Michael Conaway, calling “EPA’s recent power grab,” with their actions on the WOTUS rule, or The Clean Water Rule, serving as an example of the agency’s disregard of rural America – potentially inflicting costs on farmers and ranchers great enough to make doing business unjustifiable.

“I’ll be frank – this rule is not about clean water. Everyone wants and deserves clean water. This is not about safe drinking water in Flint, Michigan, which some have purposefully confused with the WOTUS overreach,” Chairman Conaway said. “Rebranding government overreach as part of an illicit social media campaign does not change the content of the rule. This rule is simply the result of EPA ignoring stakeholders, including states, other federal agencies, and the American people, in order to egregiously and vastly expand its jurisdiction. This rule is already tied up in the court system, and I would imagine it will be there for many years.”

The hearing also included the topics of proposed changes to the ozone standard, pesticide uses, the Renewable Fuel Standard and agricultural worker protection standards. 

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