House panel hears farmers' concerns about WOTUS

By Ann Tracy Mueller

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, March 17, 2015 - Farmers and leaders from agriculture and state and local government agencies shared their concerns about the EPA's proposed Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule at a House Agriculture Conservation and Forestry Subcommittee hearing today.

Members on one panel spoke on behalf of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, National Association of Counties, National Association of State Foresters and Association of Clean Water Administrators.

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A second panel included representatives of the American Farm Bureau Federation, the Waters Advocacy Coalition, and the Pennsylvania Rural Electric Association, as well as farmers raising crops and livestock in Mississippi and Illinois.

Although comments from each panel member varied somewhat based on the possible effects of the proposed Clean Water Act rule on the groups they represent, most voiced similar sentiments.  

Big worries in rural America when it comes to WOTUS are lack of clarity within the rule, especially about definitions of terms related to bodies of water and waterways, as well fear of litigation, and high permitting costs.

While others on the panels read prepared remarks voicing their concerns, Steve Foglesong, a west central Illinois farmer, used photos of his cattle farm to pose questions many in rural America have about where control lies - of areas both wet and sometimes dry on the property he owns.

“Where does jurisdiction start and stop?” Foglesong asked.

Several panelists said that what the EPA and Corps of Engineers are overseeing on a federal level is often better regulated on the state level. Differences in soil, geography, forests and bodies of water can make it difficult for a one-size-fits all rule to work in every situation.

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Russ Biggicia is director of government, legislative and economic development for the Pennsylvania Rural Electric Association. From maintaining rights of ways to permits for vegetation controls, he said his and other rural cooperatives would be faced with greater costs for doing business.

Biggicia said member-owned electric cooperatives in his area have only seven customers per mile of line compared to 44 customers per mile for public electric utilities. Increased costs related to the new rules, including permitting, would be a hardship for members.

“Cost does matter,” he said.

Rep. Bob Gibbs, R-Ohio, is a farmer. Gibbs said the proposed rule takes us backwards. “We need to stop this.”

“They [farmers] drink that water first,” Gibbs said. “They're excellent stewards of the land.”

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