Representatives of state farm bureaus, as well as individual farmers and ranchers, spoke out in favor of keeping the Trump administration’s Navigable Waters Protection Rule in place at an online meeting today.
However, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers have already said they are concerned about the damaging effects of the 2020 rule on the nation's waters and are working towards developing a replacement.
In particular, “the agencies are concerned that the NWPR did not look closely enough at the effect ephemeral waters have on traditional navigable waters when the agencies decided to categorically exclude all ephemeral waters,” Radhika Fox, assistant administrator for water at EPA, said in a June declaration filed in a court case challenging that Trump-era rule, which at this time is still the law of the land.
State farm bureaus were well represented in Monday’s online meeting, one of several the agencies are holding to gather feedback on the direction they should take.
“Our nation’s producers should not be required to get permits for common and essential farming practices,” said Tiffany Rivera, director of governmental affairs for the New Mexico Farm and Livestock Bureau.
The NWPR, she and other ag representatives said, “very clearly protected the waters it should have, like lakes, rivers and streams,” she said.
Rivera was not alone among numerous representatives of state farm bureaus who urged the agencies not to write the word “navigable” out of the Clean Water Act.
The CWA establishes jurisdiction over “navigable waters," which it defines as “waters of the U.S.,” a term left to the federal government to further define. The 2020 rule excluded ephemeral streams — those that flow as a result of precipitation — and narrowed conditions under which “adjacent wetlands” can be considered jurisdictional. It also largely exempts ditches.
To members of the ag community who spoke, the 2020 rule provides clarity and certainty and allows them to more easily upgrade their operations without worrying about having to get approval from the Army Corps of Engineers.
“Our state is well-positioned to take control of its own water protection,” said Chelsea McGuire, director of government relations at the Arizona Farm Bureau. “We have the will and capacity to protect waters without intrusive mandates.”
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Environmental groups, however, said the 2020 rule must be repealed immediately because it is leading to the loss of wetlands and ephemeral streams that are no longer protected but which are essential to protect against flooding.
Kelly Moser, a senior attorney with Southern Environmental Law Center, said the government’s own evaluation has shown that about 76% of wetlands and streams evaluated under the new rule did not fall under federal jurisdiction.
Kevin Jeselnik, general counsel at Chattahoochee Riverkeeper in Georgia, said he has not seen states “step in and fill the gap” in jurisdiction created by the NWPR. He also said he was surprised to hear so many farmers and ranchers raising concerns about the Clean Water Act, “from which they are largely exempt.”
The administration is holding a series of public meetings through Sept. 2 to gather comments as it crafts a new rule, which EPA Administrator Michael Regan has said he wants to both protect water and natural resources while not overly burdening small farmers.
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