The National Cattlemen's Beef Association on Wednesday said a bill from Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Fla., could help stop the U.S. EPA-proposed Waters of the United States rule from moving any further.
Southerland said the proposed rule – which aims to define what waters fall under the Clean Water Act's jurisdiction – would expand the U.S. EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers' "regulatory authority to almost any body of water in America, including ditches, pipes, watersheds, and farmland ponds."
In addition to invalidating the WOTUS rule, the bill also includes a provision previously offered as stand-alone legislation by Rep. Reid Ribble, R-Wis., that will invalidate the "interpretive" rule.
The interpretive rule, which was unveiled the same day as the Waters rule, but took effect immediately, outlines 56 Natural Resources Conservation Service-approved "normal farming, silviculture and ranching activities" exemptions under Sec. 404 of the Clean Water Act.
The National Cattlemen's Beef Association argues that with the interpretive rule, however, the agencies have made cattle grazing a discharge activity, "forcing cattle producers to obtain a NRCS-approved grazing plan or else be subjected to the 404 permitting scheme and the penalties under the Clean Water Act."
Other groups have opposed the interpretive rule on the grounds that it could turn the NRCS into a regulatory agency that polices what conservation practices meet its guidelines and therefore do not require CWA permitting.
Southerland's bill follows legislation proposed nearly a month ago in the U.S. Senate that would also stop the EPA and Army Corps from finalizing the rule, which will be reviewed following the close of its comment period in October.
EPA has experienced significant backlash on the proposed rule from agribusiness and legislators. The NCBA says the rule contains "vague and subjective wording" that could regulate land-use activities like ranching.
For the first time, NCBA says, ditches are included in the definition of a "tributary" and many will now come under federal jurisdiction, suggesting that activities near a jurisdictional ditch will now require a federal permit.
"This proposal takes the authority Congress granted EPA far beyond the scope of Congressional intent," said Public Lands Council President Brice Lee, a Colorado rancher. "Not only is this illegal, but it clearly disregards the Supreme Court's interpretation of the Clean Water Act jurisdiction."
But EPA's Nancy Stoner, acting assistant administrator for water with the U.S. EPA, hosted a public conference call on Wednesday to address the concern about ditches' regulation – and "clarify misconceptions" about the rule.
On the specific issue of ditches, Stoner said the rule reduces regulation of ditches by excluding those that don't hold water all the time. She added that some ditches have been regulated since 1970, and the proposed rule would clarify which ditches fall under the EPA's jurisdiction.