EPA, Farm Bureau views clash on 'Waters of U.S.'

By Breanne Brammer

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WASHINGTON, June 12, 2014 - The EPA and the American Farm Bureau Federation presented radically different views of how the agency's proposed definition of “waters of the U.S.” will affect agriculture at a congressional hearing on Wednesday.

EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe told a House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee that the planned changes to the Clean Water Act are really a clarification of existing language and would not have a major effect on agriculture. He said there were 56 exemptions for farmers and ranchers in the proposal and that ditches would not fall under EPA's jurisdiction.

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“We are trying to get it right so we have definitions that we can establish to deal with different areas of the country,” Perciasepe said.

AFBF President Bob Stallman challenged Perciasepe's testimony. “Now, I know some of you may have heard that EPA says the rule does not cover ditches,” Stallman said. “Well, EPA has said a lot of things, and its statement about ditches is simply not true.”

Stallman said it is hard to image that the EPA rule would affect only 1,300 acres, as the agency claims, as there are more than 106 million acres of wetlands currently being used for agricultural purposes.  Stallman said proposed changes will force farmers to seek federal permits to undertake ordinary farming practices, which will inhibit their ability to produce food, fiber and fuel. 

Perciasepe estimates there will be $100 to $200 million in costs associated with the proposed rule, including increased costs for permit applications. Beyond agriculture, miners, timber companies, oil companies, developers and state and local governments would be affected.

Bob Gibbs, R-Ohio, chairman of the Subcommittee on Water Resources and the Environment, expressed concern that required studies had not been completed before the proposed rule was written.  He also said that Washington's “one size fits all” approach to policy is a problem because state input is needed. 

“I am concerned the proposed rule will erode the state-federal partnership that the Clean Water Act was meant to be,” Gibbs said.

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