EPA May Spend Summer Defending Waters of the U.S. Rule

EPA May Spend Summer Defending Waters of the U.S. Rule

Proposed Waters of the U.S. rule unclear to the ag community, EPA assistant water administrator says

There's been confusion about the proposed Waters of the U.S. rule changes, EPA Assistant Administrator for Water Nancy Stoner said in an agency blog post this week, but talking to more farmers could help ease concerns.

The agency is planning summer talks with farmers and ranchers about the proposal, starting with a trip to Missouri next week, an EPA spokeswoman told The Hill. During the meetings, EPA officials will encourage more feedback in the form of Federal Register comments from farmers and "clear up misunderstandings."

Proposed Waters of the U.S. rule unclear to the ag community, EPA assistant water administrator says

"We know that we haven’t had the best relationship with the agriculture industry in the past, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t and we can’t do better," Stoner said on the EPA leadership blog.

"We are committed to listening to farmers and ranchers and in fact, our proposed rule takes their feedback into account."

Related: A Closer Look at EPA Water Rule Proposal

Agriculture groups haven't been subtle in voicing opposition to the proposed rule changes, which aim to clarify what waters fall under the definition of waters of the U.S. If a water falls under the Waters of the U.S. definition, EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers could have the jurisdiction to enforce regulations outlined in the Clean Water Act.

Since the rule was unveiled in March, EPA has maintained that it is a clarification of previous rulemaking that would eliminate the need for the Army Corps of Engineers to make decisions on what waters are "waters of the U.S." on a case-by-case basis.

"EPA’s proposal will bring clarity and consistency to the process, cutting red tape and saving money. The proposed Waters of the U.S. rule does not regulate new types of ditches, does not regulate activities on land, and does not apply to groundwater," Stoner wrote in her blog. "The proposal does not change the permitting exemption for stock ponds, does not require permits for normal farming activities like moving cattle, and does not regulate puddles."

Related: Fight The EPA's Claims To Your Land (commentary)

But the American Farm Bureau, which is currently running a "Ditch the Rule" campaign to scrap the EPA's proposed changes, says it skirts state's rights to regulate land use and could subject farmers to fines and penalties for ordinary farming activities.

The Farm Bureau also argues that the rule could have a broader economic impact than the EPA has suggested, and could affect more acres than the 1,300 it estimates.

Related: Senators' Bill Aims to Block EPA Waters of the US Rule

Senators opposing the rule, David Vitter, R-La., and John Barrasso, R-Wyo. – both of who co-signed a bill to block it last month – say the rule change could even threaten community fireworks shows this weekend.

In a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy dated July 1, the two say some communities that hold fireworks displays near bodies of water have been threatened with lawsuits for violation of the Clean Water Act, and "EPA and the Corps' proposed 'waters of the United States' rule could exacerbate this disturbing trend."

Interested stakeholders have until Oct. 20 to comment on the rule via the Federal Register, an extension of the original comment period, which was scheduled to end July 21.

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