Producers appeal for WOTUS delay, as group warns of 'radical' increase in regulation

By Philip Brasher

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Aug. 12, 2015 - The American Farm Bureau Federation released maps it said showed the new Clean Water Act rule would lead to a “radical” expansion in its jurisdiction, and another leading farm group called for the Obama administration to delay implementation of the measure.

The Farm Bureau posted maps from Virginia, Pennsylvania and Montana that a consulting firm produced showing ephemeral streams - areas that flow only briefly - that could fall under the law's jurisdiction under the rule re-defining “waters of the United States” (WOTUS). 

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The maps also identify the zones around tributaries where wetlands could be regulated under the rule, so that 99 percent of Pennsylvania's total acreage could be subject to EPA scrutiny, the Farm Bureau said. “Landowners have no reliable way to know which of the water and land within that area will be regulated, yet they must still conform their activities to the new law," the group said.

In response, the Environmental Protection Agency said the Farm Bureau photos “are highly inaccurate depictions” that  “visually exaggerate the waters covered” by the rule.

Meanwhile, the National Corn Growers Association said in a letter to the EPA on Wednesday that the Aug. 28 implementation date should be delayed because the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers appear divided over the rule internally and unprepared to start enforcing the new definition of streams.

A coalition of livestock groups, including National Cattlemen's Beef Association and National Pork Producers Council, wrote the EPA and Corps on July 30 requesting a delay. The Farm Bureau has called on the administration to withdraw the rule.

In its statement the EPA pledged to “increase transparency, provide information and improve the permit process” as the rule takes effect.

The pressure on EPA comes as the agency is under fire after workers employed by the agency accidentally released more than three million gallons of polluted mine waste water into a Colorado River. 

The farm group letters cited in part a series of internal documents that showed the Army Corps of Engineers questioning the legal and technical basis for the rule just weeks before its release in May. An April 27 memorandum that the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee released last month along with the other internal Corps documents warned that the draft rule had “fatal” problems that would make it difficult to implement or defend in court.  

“Given these disagreements, we lack confidence in the Agencies' ability to implement the rule sensibly, soundly, and uniformly across the country at this stage,” the NCGA letter said. “We cannot comprehend how you can make assurances that the final rule will not result in new permitting requirements for farmers given this degree of technical and operational disagreement among the implementing field staff.”

Provisions in House and Senate appropriations bills for EPA and the Corps would bar the agencies from enforcing the rule during the 2016 fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1. However, it could be months before the 2016 appropriations are enacted. 

The appropriations measures stalled in Congress this summer amid a fight between congressional leaders and the Obama administration over spending levels as well as the WOTUS provision and a range of other policy riders.

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