EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, who is under fire in rural America for a "Waters of the United States" rule that EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers proposed in April, has been making the effort, with a trip to Missouri early in July and a meeting last week with Republicans on the Senate Agriculture Committee who have been asking for a sit-down since May.Farmers need to calm down a bit. If they don't do anything stupid, like drain a wetland they haven't farmed for 20 years, or channelize a stream that runs through their farm, almost everything they do will be covered under nationwide permits or anti-degradation. Ditch maintenance should be able to be completed without too much issue if BMPs are followed. Plus, EPA has many more things to worry about than farmers' tillage practices (like manure over-application in lake watersheds). EPA is going to focus on urban and suburban development first and foremost under these rules, not what Johnny Seedcap is doing in the back forty. But farmers are useful idiot if lobbyists like Farm Bureau or the Cahmber of Commerce come along and tell them that EPA is trying to regulate every grass waterway on their farms. Then farmers will scream at Congress and Congress can beat on EPA to make it easier for Wal-Mart to bulldoze the creek running through some suburban neighborhood. I work with EPA all the time, but every farmer I know will tell me what's going to happen if a draft rule is approved. They never know what they are talking about.
The outreach hasn't stopped the criticism, but McCarthy told me in an interview Thursday that she feels the effort has been worth it. McCarthy said the trip to Missouri was "a signal that this rule is very important to EPA." On Capitol Hill she said she learned that "EPA speaks with a lot of technical language and science. It is not readily translated into what is clear on the ground for the farm community."
WOTUS, as the rule is being called in environmental and agricultural circles, would define the scope of waters protected under the 1972 Clean Water Act following two Supreme Court decisions that said the feds had to come up with a more scientific basis for deciding what water bodies come under their jurisdiction. The point of the rule is to make sure that the nation's drinking water is safe from discharges of pollution. The biggest point of contention is a provision that says EPA and the Army Corps would be allowed to decide on a case-by-case basis whether to regulate wetlands and other waters that are not directly connected to running streams and rivers but have "a significant nexus to a traditional navigable water, interstate water, or the territorial seas."
Farm and ranch leaders who examined the rule immediately said they feared the provision could require them to obtain government permits for activities in which they have long engaged as a regular part of their businesses—and that because the determinations will be made on a case-by-case basis, the proposal creates a great deal of uncertainty about their future operations. EPA also issued an "interpretative rule" that tried to define farm practices that would be exempt from regulation, but that only made farmers think about what practices were not included and worry they would come under regulation.
The ensuing battle can be summed up in one word: ditches. Farmers and ranchers say EPA wants to regulate all their ditches that may fill up with water at some point during the year. The Republican-leaning American Farm Bureau Federation has called on McCarthy to "ditch the rule."
On the trip to a farm in Missouri and in a speech to the Kansas City Agribusiness Council, McCarthy said she wanted to "ditch the myths" about the rule, but her critics weren't satisfied. The farm federation reacted to her Missouri trip by sending Congress a document "decoding" point-by-point an EPA blog post that attempted to explain the rule. The Republican senators she met with issued a series of news releases saying they appreciated her visit but EPA should still withdraw the rule.
Bills have been introduced in Congress to require EPA to withdraw the rule, but they are unlikely to go anywhere, at least as long as Democrats control the Senate and President Obama backs the rule. In any case EPA and the Army Corps are under pressure from the courts to define their jurisdiction. That means EPA is likely to proceed with the rule, although McCarthy said she won't finish it until next year after her staff has analyzed all the comments due by October and received a study from a scientific advisory panel.
Monday, July 28, 2014
EPA Chief to Farmers: Don't Be Stupid