EPA's McCarthy defends WOTUS, RFS at Corn Congress

By Sarah Gonzalez

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WASHINGTON, July 16, 2015 - Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy went before a meeting of the nation's corn growers today in an attempt to reassure the farmers about her agency's implementation of the “waters of the United States” rule.

“We did our best to spell out in black and white that it does not apply to regular farming,” McCarthy said during the National Corn Growers Association's (NCGA) annual Corn Congress in Washington. “We actually added exemptions to make it crystal clear that we're not getting in the way of agriculture with this rule.”

NCGA joined 13 other organizations this month in filing a lawsuit against EPA seeking to overturn the rule, which redefines the U.S. bodies of water that can be regulated under the Clean Water Act. Barring court action, the rule will take effect Aug. 28.

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“Under the new rule, every farmer and rancher in America now has at least one WOTUS on their farm,” NGCA President Chip Bowling said in a statement. “That puts far too much power in the hands of the federal government and exposes farmers to considerable liabilities - without actually doing anything to improve water quality.”

McCarthy, however, insisted that the rule maintains all previous exemptions and exclusions for agriculture and does not include any new permitting requirements.

She acknowledged that farmers need clearer information from EPA field staff. Her agency, along with the Army Corps of Engineers, will develop an online database “that is transparent…so you can hopefully be assured that we are doing everything possible to streamline the interpretation of this rule,” McCarthy said.

Additionally, she appealed to NCGA to help gather specific questions farmers have about the water rule, so that the Army Corps and EPA can publish the answers online.

McCarthy also addressed the EPA's proposed volumes under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), which the corn growers rallied against earlier this week.

“You might have heard that we are trying to shrink or kill this program but the truth is we are committed to growing it,” she said.

She noted that the proposed Renewable Volume Obligations (RVOs) for 2015 are 10 percent higher than actual 2014 volumes, and the proposed 2016 RVOs for cellulosic biofuel are “six times higher than what the market produced in 2014.”

The proposal reduces RFS for corn ethanol by 3.75 billion gallons through 2016, representing nearly 1.5 billion bushels in lost corn demand, according to NCGA.

“Our message to the EPA is clear and unequivocal: Don't mess with the RFS,” NCGA Chairman Martin Barbre told corn growers this week.

The EPA released its proposed RVOs for biofuels under the RFS for 2014, 2015 and 2016 in May. The figures show an increase in required blending, but they are below statutory levels set in the original legislation governing the RFS passed in 2005 and expanded in 2007.

Proposed 2014 RVOs, which are meant to reflect the actual amount of domestic biofuel used last year, include a requirement for total renewable fuel set at 15.93 billion gallons. Statutory requirements for 2014 called for 18.15 billion gallons.

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In 2015, EPA is proposing 16.3 billion gallons of renewable fuels, below the statutory requirement of 20.5 billion gallons. And in 2016, the agency suggests 17.4 billion gallons of biofuels - a jump of about 1.5 billion gallons from actual 2014 production, but below the statutory requirement of 22.25 billion gallons of total renewable fuel.

The rule should be finalized by Sept. 30. “Your input will make the rule better,” McCarthy told the corn growers.  

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