WASHINGTON, April 9, 2014—Republicans on a Senate Appropriations subcommittee today urged EPA chief Gina McCarthy to work with farmers and ranchers as her agency finalizes its definitions of “waters of the U.S.’’ that fall under the protection of the Clean Water Act (CWA).
While McCarthy was scheduled to testify about her agency’s fiscal year 2015 budget request before a House Appropriations subcommittee, lawmakers used the occasion to question her and comment on the agency’s controversial proposal, which some GOP critics say is another example of regulatory overreach by the Obama administration.
Sen. Mike Johanns, R.-Neb., a former U.S. agriculture secretary, reminded McCarthy that farm groups are submitting comments on the CWA proposal and that EPA should use the opportunity to communicate its willingness to cooperate with agriculture.
“I think this is opportunity for you to say, ‘We’re listening, we’re hearing what you’re saying, and we want to get this right for you,’” he said.
Republican Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the ranking member on the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Subcommittee, expressed her concern that the proposed rule would regulate most of her state’s land mass. “Two-thirds of our state is already considered wetlands,” Murkowski said. ”In reality [this rule] promises to drastically broaden EPA’s reach.”
McCarthy, who visited Alaska in August, assured Murkowski that she recognized the state’s unique conditions and how important the eventual rule will be to Alaskans.
Johanns also asked McCarthy about the reasoning behind issuing an “interpretive rule” that lists 56 exempt farming conservation practices in conjunction with the formal proposed “waters of the U.S.” proposal..
McCarthy said the interpretive rule was the result of collaboration between the EPA and USDA and is intended to provide certainty as well as flexibility to CWA permit exemptions.
“We tried to do that in a way that would allow us to expand” the list of exempt practices, she said, noting that the interpretive rule does not require the formal rulemaking process to add exemptions. “Just because it’s not on the list, it doesn’t mean it narrows the exemptions. We thought we were doing something really good,” McCarthy said.
Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said farmers in his state are “very concerned” about the EPA proposal, specifically about how EPA means to extend jurisdiction beyond “navigable” waters to bodies of water with a “significant nexus” to navigable waters. “This needs significant involvement and input from the agricultural community,” he said, adding that farmers and ranchers want assurances that privacy rights will be respected.
McCarthy said that under the EPA proposal, mere hydrological connection to a navigable body of water is not enough to qualify for protection. She said those waters must have the potential to “significantly impact” the integrity of navigable waters to come under the CWA.
During the hearing McCarthy acknowledged the “distrust” that exists between agriculture and EPA.
“We need to work on that as a whole,” she said, “and we need to get the language correct so you’re certain we’re doing the right thing here.”
She said EPA generally takes a year before a rule is finalized after being proposed. The proposed rule on “waters of the U.S.” was released in late March.
EPA’s budget request is $7.89 billion for fiscal year 2015.
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