Officials said the proposed rule preserves the Clean Water Act exemptions and exclusions for agriculture. Additionally, EPA and the Army Corps have coordinated with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to develop an interpretive rule to ensure that 53 specific conservation practices that protect or improve water quality will not be subject to Section 404 dredged or fill permitting requirements.

The agencies will work together to implement these new exemptions and periodically review, and update USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service conservation practice standards and activities that would qualify under the exemption. Any agriculture activity that does not result in the discharge of a pollutant to waters of the U.S. still does not require a permit.

The proposed rule also helps states and tribes – according to a study by the Environmental Law Institute, 36 states have legal limitations on their ability to fully protect waters that aren’t covered by the Clean Water Act.

The proposed rule is supported by the latest peer-reviewed science, including a draft scientific assessment by EPA, which presents a review and synthesis of more than 1,000 pieces of scientific literature. The rule will not be finalized until the final version of this scientific assessment is complete, officials said.

“Forty years ago, two-thirds of America’s lakes, rivers and coastal waters were unsafe for fishing and swimming. Because of the Clean Water Act, that number has been cut in half. However, one-third of the nation’s waters still do not meet standards,” an EPA spokesman said.

The proposed rule will be open for public comment for 90 days from publication in the Federal Register. The interpretive rule for agricultural activities is effective immediately.

Some farm organizations such as the USA Rice Federation reported the release of the proposed rule to its members. “The USA Rice Federation will review the proposed rule and submit official comments after it is published in the Federal Register,” it said in its daily e-newsletter.

Comments from other lawmakers and farm organizations were muted compared to those by Sen. Blunt.

“While I am suspect of the impact and objectives of this rulemaking, I give the agency some credit for finally choosing to use the rulemaking process and allow for public input as Congress intended,” said Sen. That Cochran, R-Miss.

“I encourage citizens to carefully review this proposal and weigh in with EPA to ensure that regulations like this one are based on sound science, consider economic impacts and demonstrate common sense.”