Iowa farm groups critical of EPA's new water rule

Iowa farm groups critical of EPA's new water rule

Farmers worry new WOTUS rule will hit them with added costs and violate property rights.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on May 27 released the final version of a controversial regulation intending to define Waters of the U.S. or WOTUS. Because this is a final rule, there is no additional opportunity for comment, but the rule will not go into effect until 60 days after it is published in the Federal Register.

Related: House committee approves bill to nix Waters of the U.S. proposal ...

WORRIED ABOUT WOTUS: The new water rule proposed by EPA could result in significant red tape and expense for farmers as they make routine decisions about how best to use their land, says Iowa Farm Bureau president Craig Hill.

Iowa farm leaders contacted by Wallaces Farmer point out that the final version of the rule is nearly 300-pages long and will continue to be reviewed in detail to determine how it will impact Iowa farmers. Farmers worry that the new water rule proposed by EPA could result in significant red tape and expense for farmers as they make routine decisions about how best to use their land.

Ernst says EPA wants to expand its power over farms, landowners
Ironically, the new rule could even hamper projects that are meant to improve water quality, says U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa. She questions whether EPA seriously considered comments and input from farmers, landowners and others who will be directly affected by the new rule.

When the new rule was released earlier this week, farm and livestock groups gave an immediate reaction that the Obama administration’s new regulation to curb pollution in small waterways and wetlands could infringe on their land rights and saddle them with higher costs. However, White House officials say those concerns are unfounded. EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers say the rule is needed after a pair of Supreme Court rulings called into question the reach of the 1972 Clean Water Act on small streams, tributaries and wetlands.

EPA chief says “this new rule will not get in the way of agriculture”
EPA administrator Gina McCarthy says the rule will place under federal oversight waterways that have a “direct and significant” connection to rivers, lakes and other bodies of water that are already protected downstream. The EPA and Army Corps of Engineers say they would only regulate waterways that show physical features of flowing water, and oversee only those ditches that act like streams and carry pollution downstream. McCarthy estimates only 3% more waterways in the U.S. would be covered by the Clean Water Act.

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Despite those assurances, farm and livestock groups fear the rule overreaches by expanding the scope of “navigable waters” protected by the Clean Water Act, potentially subjecting ditches, streambeds and self-made ponds on their property to new oversight. Farmers worry they would have to pay for costly environmental assessments and apply for more permits.

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New rule doesn’t define the boundaries; it should be withdrawn
President of the Iowa Farm Bureau, Craig Hill, a Warren County farmer, says the Obama administration seems determined to expand its jurisdiction by forcing a change in the scope of the federal Clean Water Act. He says that should be determined by lawmakers in Congress. “I’m still confused which part of my farm is going to be under EPA’s permitting process and which is not, and what I do read suggests expansion, not contraction of EPA’s jurisdiction. The new WOTUS rule doesn’t define the boundaries, it only creates new uncertainty. This rule should be withdrawn.”

Grassley wants to see the WOTUS rule completely revised
U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, made the following statement after EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers released the final rule on WOTUS. Grassley has been an outspoken critic of EPA’s rulemaking in this area. He has pressed for the agency to restart the rulemaking, and has voiced concern about the impact the rule will have on agricultural interests. Grassley is a co-sponsor of a bipartisan bill in the Senate to require that the WOTUS rule be completely revised with stakeholder input. Grassley also is a co-sponsor of legislation that would clearly define the scope of Clean Water Act jurisdiction in the law rather than leaving it to the EPA. “EPA had a chance to bring all stakeholders to the table and craft a final rule that involved all interested parties. Instead, it looks like the agency tweaked a bad proposal making it slightly better, but this rule needed a complete overhaul,” he says. “The indifferent attitude EPA took toward agriculture is a real concern for Iowans who know the impact agriculture has on the state’s economy. And, at first glance, the rule still appears to be a problem for agriculture. The problem remains that Congress too broadly defined the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act when it wrote the law. So, Congress has a role to play in clarifying the congressional intent in either the appropriations process or stand-alone legislation.”

Related: EPA releases final Waters of the U.S. rule

It would have been wise for EPA to hold another comment period
Iowa Ag Secretary Bill Northey says: “The final rule is nearly 300 pages and will take some time to thoroughly analyze and understand its full impact. Given the serious problems raised in the initial proposal, I think it would have been wise for EPA to hold another comment period that would give all stakeholders a chance to closely review the rule and make thoughtful comments. It is very important that this be done correctly.

“We want to encourage farmers to do additional conservation work on their farms, not stand in their way. The uncertainty created by this entire EPA rulemaking process has created unnecessary challenges and I hope this final rule doesn’t further exacerbate those issues.”

Iowa farmers want clean, healthy water and clear rules
Iowa Corn Grower Association president Jerry Mohr says: “More than a year ago corn growers, along with many others, asked EPA for official clarification because we’ve had inconsistent interpretation and application of what was considered a water of the U.S. When EPA released their proposed rule last year, we were disappointed that the language simply expanded their jurisdiction, without providing the added clarity that was needed. Farmers across Iowa and the nation submitted thousands of comments to EPA outlining our concerns with the proposed rule.”

Related: Missouri cattlemen outraged over EPA, WOTUS land grab

Mohr adds, “The final rule issued by EPA today, May 27, 2015, is extensive and we will continue to review it over the coming days to see how it will impact Iowa farmers. We all want the same thing, clean water. As Iowa farmers our livelihood depends upon an abundance of clean and healthy soil and water, which is why we have led the way in promoting nutrient reduction. Instead of restricting the efforts we are taking to voluntarily improve our environment, EPA should be partnering with us to advance and promote those efforts.”

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