A mid-week tour to Missouri is on tap for U.S. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, largely in effort to discuss the waters of the U.S. proposal with ag industry stakeholders and "eliminate confusion," the agency said Tuesday.
McCarthy plans to travel to the farm of corn and soy farmer Bill Heffernan on Wednesday, followed by a luncheon Thursday with the Kansas City Agribusiness Council.
"One of the top priorities of mine is to make sure that we hear and listen to the voices of farmers and ranchers," McCarthy said, "and make sure that their interests and concerns are reflected in the work we do."
The talks will focus on EPA's latest proposed rulemaking on the definition of "waters of the U.S" under the Clean Water Act. The agency in March released the proposed rule, its language much to the dissatisfaction of key farm interests.
According to an action alert from the American Farm Bureau, for example, the proposed rule shows that "EPA and the [Army Corps of Engineers] are now attempting to regulate virtually all water, something Congress has explicitly chosen not to allow and which two U.S. Supreme Court decisions have rejected."
The National Cattlemen's Beef Association has been equally vocal about the proposed rule's accompanying interpretive rule that governs agricultural exemptions for CWA permitting. The group says the exemptions – which are provided for farmers adhering to Natural Resources Conservation Service guidelines – could turn the NRCS into a regulatory body and discourage adoption of voluntary conservation practices.
But these concerns stem from misunderstandings, says McCarthy. "WOTUS is not about restricting farmers – it's about protecting downstream water quality for all of us and doing it in a way that doesn't get in the way of American agriculture," she said.
"While there are some legitimate concerns out there with the rule … we're hearing some concerns that really, to put frankly, are ludicrous. I want to dismiss some of those myths about that proposal," she said.
Specifically, McCarthy said one of the top myths to knock down is that the EPA will regulate puddles.
"Now that's just silly," McCarthy said, reiterating EPA's position that the rule focuses on science-based information to determine what waters can have a significant impact on downstream water quality.
All ditches and groundwater, too, won't be regulated, the administrator maintained.
"The bottom line with this proposal is that if you weren't supposed to get a permit before, you don't need to get one now," she said.