You might have heard a rumor that the EPA was planning on what some call a massive power grab by redefining its jurisdiction over America's wetlands. In case it has gotten by your strict attention, here is what the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association says about the proposed WOTUS reg:
"The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) recently proposed an expansion of their federal authority over “waters of the U.S.” The agencies have proposed to redefine the definition of “Waters of the United States,” and that new definition would require cattle ranchers to get the permission of the federal government anytime they needed to expand, do maintenance, or perform routine activities like driving a tractor through a pasture.
Almost all activities on our open land will now touch a “water of the United States” under the expanded definition. Many cattle operations will be required to get Sec. 402 NPDES permits, Sec. 404 Dredge and Fill permits, or Sec. 311 Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasure (SPCC) spill plans. The expansion flies in the face of the U.S. Constitution, the plain language of the Clean Water Act, and Congressional intent and is therefore illegal. Tell the agency that the agencies have stepped over the line and the proposed rule should NOT be finalized."
By the way, you should tell them before the comment period ends on November 14. The easiest way to make your position known – pro or con – is by going to this NCBA page and filling out the form. You'll find it here: http://cqrcengage.com/beefusa/app/write-a-letter?0&engagementId=47396&ut....
EPA says their proposed rule is grossly misunderstood. Exclusions and exemptions for the usual agricultural practices, like walking cows across rain dampened pastures, will not change, they say. According to their web site, the proposal reduces regulation of ditches 'because for the first time it would exclude ditches that are constructed through dry lands and don’t have water year-round.'
And more from the EPA: 'The proposed rule does not change the exemption for farm ponds that has been in place for decades. It would for the first time specifically exclude stock watering and irrigation ponds constructed in dry lands. The proposed rule specifically excludes groundwater and does not expand to include puddles and water on driveways and playgrounds.'
Liz Purchia, EPA spokeswoman, said, “Our proposal will ensure that the thousands of businesses across the country, ranging from hunting and fishing to the high tech sector, continue to have access to clean water that they depend on. When we protect waterways, we free up businesses and communities to invest their dollars on other resources rather than cleaning up polluted waterways."
Regardless of the EPA's attempts at clarification, lots of cattle industry groups and ag state leaders are still disbelievers. Here is how some of them are expressing their doubts:
Mike Deering, Executive Vice President of the Missouri Cattlemen's Association
"The agencies' proposal throws private property rights to the curb and clearly violates Supreme Court precedent by subjecting nearly all water to scientifically unfounded regulation," said Deering. "The intentional use of very broad and vague language in this proposal makes clear that the government's intent is to subject landowners to limitless regulation. This nonsense cannot possibly be supported by the Clean Water Act or the U.S. Constitution.
Logic and commonsense tells us the surrounding land will also be regulated more than ever before. This rule just continues this administration's regulatory rampage and enough is enough. Farmers and ranchers are not confused and are well aware of this administration's blatant attempt to control every drop of water and every piece of private land in this country."
Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds and Secretary Bill Northey (letter and submitted comments)
"The overriding concern of a diverse group of impacted stakeholders, including state leaders, is that the proposed rule will impose significant barriers to the advancement of innovative, state- and local-driven conservation and environmental practices that would actually advance our common goal of water quality. Because the proposed rule is fatally flawed, we request that it be withdrawn and that future rulemaking be appropriately coordinated with States and relevant stakeholders. We agree that clean water requires good, clear, well-designed regulations - unfortunately, the ones currently being proposed are not."
Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), House Agriculture Committee
"The impact of the Waters of the U.S. rule on farmers, landowners, local economies, and jobs is very real. Protecting America’s waterways is critical, but continued power grabs by the EPA is not the solution. This should be a collaborative approach – not a mandate or murky definition from the EPA. We need common sense policies that will protect water quality without limiting economic growth and unfairly over-regulating local agricultural producers and economies. It’s time to ditch this rule."
Kelly Fogarty, U.S. Cattlemen's Association Deputy Director of Government and Industry Relations
"Stewardship by agriculture is a priority, but it's the blanket approach that this proposal brings that initially started out to tighten definitions, but in retrospect has broadened it up to more misinterpretation. What was intended to tighten up isn't doing so. It's kind of a messy rule. While the message may be good - nobody here doesn't want clean water - but the approach isn't good."
Chip Bowling, National Corn Growers Association President (After hosting a group of Environmental Protection Agency staffers on a tour of his farm)
"We wanted to give them a view of what actually happens on the farm. Our members have a lot of uncertainty and concerns with the proposed rules. We are working with the EPA to ensure that the final proposal provides clarity and addresses those concerns.
I know they learned something, as did we. Ninety-nine percent of my farm friends do what I do. We have no problems with erosion or ditch damage. We've become more efficient and are doing more with less."
Bottom line: Talking about the dreaded public pushback on proposed rules and regs, the comment period on this one has been extended twice. One extension is almost always a sign that the proposal is on shaky grounds. In this case, the tremors are coming faster than the fracking-induced quakes in central Oklahoma. TWO extensions? That's bad news for the feds. Regardless of the intent, it's time to retire WOTUS as it now stands and go back to the re-drawing board.