Agriculture Reacts Angrily to WOTUS Rule

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Is this a ditch or a stream? If it acts like a tributary, then it would be subject to the EPA’s Clean Water Rule, previously known as the Waters of the U.S.

If the EPA thought that its latest version of the “Waters of the U.S.” rule might find favor with farmers and ranchers, the agency knows better now.

The agriculture community reacted swiftly—and angrily—to the revised rule, which was released Wednesday morning.

“America’s farmers and ranchers deserve a government that will review and address their concerns,” said U.S. Rep. K. Michael Conaway, who chairs the House agriculture community, and U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson, who leads the forestry subcommittee. “Instead, the process by which this rule was established ignored them. Even input from the states was ignored, clearly displaying the arrogant, ‘government knows best’ attitude ever-present in this Administration.”

U.S. Senator Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) didn’t hold back either. “Today, the Obama Administration released the damaging ‘Waters of the U.S.’ finalized rule – a regulation is opposed by virtually every farm organization, commodity group and other business interests in rural America. I am sorry to say, as expected, the rule is bad news for rural America,” he said. “As Chairman of the Agriculture Committee, I’m proud to champion agriculture. We will lead the charge in pushing back against EPA’s egregious federal overreach.”

Watch Sen. Roberts’ response here:

Fellow U.S. Senator John Hoeven (R-N.D.) didn’t like the newfound federal regulatory protection for water features like prairie potholes, which are shallow wetlands located in the Upper Midwest. Such designation “threatens these regions’ agriculture, construction, energy and other industries with new permitting requirements and litigation,” he said.

A recent article suggesting the EPA may have violated its own advocacy guidelines in its Waters of the U.S. efforts has only deepened the skepticism toward the rule amongst those in ag.

According to an article published May 18, 2015, in The New York Times, “late last year, the E.P.A. sponsored a drive on Facebook and Twitter to promote its proposed clean water rule in conjunction with the Sierra Club. At the same time, Organizing for Action, a grass-roots group with deep ties to Mr. Obama, was also pushing the rule. They urged the public to flood the agency with positive comments to counter opposition from farming and industry groups. The results were then offered as proof that the proposal was popular.”

That does not sit well with Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, which plans to look very carefully at the new regulations.

“Based on EPA’s aggressive advocacy campaign in support of its original proposed rule – and the agency’s numerous misstatements about the content and impact of that proposal – we find little comfort in the agency’s assurances that our concerns have been addressed in any meaningful way,” Stallman said in a statement. “…EPA’s decision to mount an aggressive advocacy campaign during the comment period has tainted what should have been an open and thoughtful deliberative process. While we know that farmers and ranchers were dedicated to calling for substantial changes to the rule, we have serious concerns about whether their comments were given full consideration.”

The resistance to the rule has been widespread in agriculture, from commodity crop farmers to ranchers and dairy farmers, and many sound a wee wary of this latest version.

“We voiced strong opposition to the original version, and while we are encouraged by the agency’s willingness to revisit the rule and potentially address farmer concerns, we are very much in a ‘trust but verify’ mode,” said Wade Cowan, the Texas farmer who is also president of the American Soybean Association. “ASA needs to establish that the rule does not affect everyday soybean farming operations, and we are now in the process of making that determination.”

The National Corn Growers Association took a similar approach.

“We cannot comment on the specifics of the revised rule until we have had a chance to fully review it,” said NCGA President Chip Bowling, who also farms in Maryland. “With the earlier round of proposed rules, NCGA was concerned that the earlier proposed rule represented a significant expansion of federal Clean Water Act jurisdiction relative to anything that has ever been in rulemaking before. We especially will look closely at how on-farm ditches, ponds and puddles are treated in the rule. As in the past, we will work with EPA as much as possible to ensure we have rules in place that are clear and workable for farmers.”