In glancing through the available material, it would be difficult to conclude anything other than that the Environmental Protection Agency still plans to go ahead with the proposed expansion of its authority over water. I speak, of course, of the Waters of the United States EPA authority, derived from the Clean Waters Act of 1972, and now become a matter of grave concern in rural America. It affects counties and townships, as well as farming and ranching. In a recent Midwest speaking tour, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy presented the proposed new rule as protecting waters science says have a significant impact on downstream water quality - no more, no less.
The acting assistant administrator for water, Nancy Stoner, has gone so far as to question the validity of concerns raised by the American Farm Bureau Federation, and others, regarding the proposed Waters of the U.S. Rule.
They Say: theres been some confusion about the proposed rule; WE SAY: almost any low spot where rainwater collects could be regulated under the new rule, which defines tributaries and adjacent in ways making it impossible for a typical farmer to know if ditches or low areas on the farm will be waters of the U.S.. THEY SAY: the rule keeps intact all exemptions and exclusions for agriculture . . . But does more for farmers by expanding the . . . Exemptions. WE SAY: EPA must maintain the exemptions, because Congress wrote the law that way, but the expansion of authority over small, isolated wetlands and occasional ditches and drains will mean fewer farms will benefit from the exemptions, and there is no exemption to permit fertilizer or pesticides to fall into a water or wetland without an NPDES permit. Also, the normal farming exemption has been interpreted by the various agencies to allow farming to continue, only if it has been ongoing since 1977.
THEY SAY: Confusion caused by Supreme Court rulings added red tape, time and expense to the permitting process. WE SAY: The Supreme Court rulings did not complicate the permitting process. That was already a morass of red tape. The proposed rule would automatically regulate countless small wetlands and miles of ditches and drains across the country. The rule is so complicated a farmer may not know a field is regulated until the lawsuit is laid on.
Administrator McCarthy says EPA will answer the questions raised by farmers and ranchers as soon as possible. She says she hopes the end result is a rule written so farmers and ranchers can farm the way they have - - and EPA can protect the waters.
I think Im hearing her say we can have it both ways. That almost never works.
Karl Guenther is a retired Kalamazoo farm broadcaster and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . He is a member of Michigan Farm Bureau and an emeritus member of the National Association of Farm Broadcasting.