The American Farm Bureau Federation April 22 asked its members to resist a proposed rule from the Environmental Protection Agency that it says will impose unworkable regulations on the nation’s farms.
Published April 21 in the Federal Register, the more-than-111,000-word “Waters of the U.S.” proposed rule reflects the EPA’s latest interpretation of the 1972 Clean Water Act. The rule could ultimately lead to the unlawful expansion of federal regulation to cover routine farming and ranching practices as well as other common private land uses, such as building homes.
“This rule is an end run around congressional intent and rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court, alike,” AFBF President Bob Stallman says. “Congress and the courts have both said that the 50 states, not EPA, have power to decide how farming and other land uses should be restricted. It’s time to ditch this rule.”
Among other things, the rule would expand federal control over land features such as ditches and areas of agricultural land that are wet only during storms.
EPA says its new rule clarifies the scope of the Clean Water Act. However, EPA’s “clarification” is achieved by categorically classifying most water features and even dry land as “waters of the United States.”
If carried out, Farm Bureau says, ordinary field work, fence construction or even planting could require a federal permit. The result will be a wave of new regulation or outright prohibitions on routine farming practices and other land uses.
“Congress, not federal agencies, writes the laws of the land,” Stallman said. “When Congress wrote the Clean Water Act, it clearly intended for the law to apply to navigable waters. Is a small ditch navigable? Is a stock pond navigable? We really don’t think so, and Farm Bureau members are going to be sending that message.”
EPA contends that an entire set of exemptions will protect many farmers from the burdensome new rule. But Stallman counters that those exemptions will only apply to farming that has been ongoing since the 1970s, not new or expanded farms. Even for those farms, the exemptions do not cover weed control, fertilizer use or other common farm practices. The already narrow exemptions, Stallman says, have existed for years but have been further narrowed by EPA guidance issued simultaneously with the proposed rule.
“The EPA exemptions offer no meaningful protection for the hundreds of thousands of farmers and ranchers whose operations and livelihoods are threatened by this expansion of EPA’s regulatory reach,” Stallman says.
“EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers have said the WOTUS rule provides clarity and certainty. The only thing that is clear and certain is that, under this rule, it will be more difficult for private landowners to farm and ranch, build homes or make changes to the land – even if the changes that landowners propose would benefit the environment. This is pure and simply wrong, and it is why we need to ditch the rule.”