Sunday, June 29, 2014

Farmers Worry About Proposed EPA Water Rule. Again.

Des Moines Register:
Now, a rule being proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency outlining which bodies of water the agency would oversee under the Clean Water Act has again rattled the agriculture industry. The EPA says it is necessary after recent court rulings to clarify the 1972 law. Many farmers fear it amounts to nothing more than a land grab that could saddle them with higher costs, more regulatory red tape and less freedom to run their farms and ranches.
"This, in my career of farming, is the most scary and frightening proposition that I have witnessed," said Craig Hill, president of the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation who farms 1,750 acres of corn and soybeans with his son in Milo. "Even though they say this doesn't affect farmers, but you read this rule and you are not convinced at all. That's why it's so dangerous. And that's why we have such a lack of trust."
The proposed water regulation, better known as the "Waters of the U.S." rule, is the latest measure that's symbolic of the growing fissure dividing the EPA and agriculture producers....
Despite assurances from the EPA, farm groups contend the Waters of the U.S. rule would expand the scope of so-called "navigable waters" protected by the Clean Water Act to include not only rivers and lakes but ditches, stream beds and self-made ponds that only carry water when it rains.
Hill and other farmers fear they would have to pay for costly environmental assessments and apply for permits allowing them to till soil, apply fertilizer or engage in some conservation practices because of the impact they might have on waterways that would be newly regulated by the EPA.
Hill said that under the proposed water rule if he wanted to build a pond or terrace for soil retention, he would have to apply for a permit, a process that can take two years and cost tens of thousands of dollars — a prohibitive price tag that would likely force farmers and ranchers to abandon such projects.
In remarks before farm trade groups and agricultural reporters, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy has repeatedly said the proposed rule does not increase regulation and would not add to or expand the scope of waters protected by the Clean Water Act. She also said it is "not a land grab" and added that current exemptions in place for the Clean Water Act that do not require permits for "normal farming, ranching and agricultural practices" such as plowing, planting seed or minor drainage would be kept in place.
Based on my personal experience with the "Waters of the U.S." rule, this is a very confusing issue.  It isn't just the EPA (especially with the Section 401 permit) that makes it confusing, but also the Army Corps of Engineers with their Section 404 permitting process.  However, I think farmers are delusional in their fears of EPA.  EPA is right that court decisions have clouded the definition of "Waters of the U.S.," which, when I was working on 404 and 401 permits, pretty much matched the description which farmers fear.  However, reworking waterways for conservation purposes, along with many agricultural activities were exempt.  Never were farmers required to apply for permits to conduct tillage or fertilizer application activities, and they won't be required to in the foreseeable future, in spite of obvious water quality issues caused by fertilizer and manure runoff. 

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