White House Finalizes Ruling Clarifying Clean Water Act, Sparking Ag Industry Push-Back
On May 27, the White House finalized a rule proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers intended to strengthen the Clean Water Act of 1972, sparking concern and push-back in the agriculture sector.
Originally known as the “Waters of the United States” rule, the rule is designed to facilitate and simplify which bodies of water fall under the control of the Clean Water Act, and therefore would require permits for developing or discharging into covered bodies of water. But farmers, developers, and some Republicans are referring to it as a power grab, and serious overreach by federal regulators.
The EPA states that the additional affected bodies of water would be marginal, and that the rule is not an expansion of federal authority, but opponents claim that the agency is underestimating the impact of such a ruling that will increase red tape and costs to farmers that suddenly find their land and water subject to the new regulations – and claim that the ruling leaves certain grey areas still in question, such as the fate of streams or wetlands that are wet only during certain times of the year.
Even though this is a final ruling, meaning it will take effect 60 days after publication, legislation geared to block the act has already been passed in the House of Representatives and is pending in the Senate, with the Senate legislation having 30 co-sponsors including three Democrats. If the bill passes both chambers, there is still the possibility that it could, and likely will be, vetoed by President Obama.
Outside of Capital Hill, the American Farm Bureau Federation has created the “Ditch the Rule” campaign, so called because of concerns the EPA will use the ruling to claim control of roadside ditches, and Farm Bureau president, Bob Stallman, says his organization remains skeptical and will be thoroughly reviewing the rule. In response, the EPA has created with a “Ditch the Myth” webpage designed to answer the concerns of farmers and others.