Later this week, the House Agriculture Committee will have the opportunity to examine the regulatory agenda of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and its effects on Americans living in rural areas. Administrator Gina McCarthyGina McCarthyObama won’t weaken car emissions standards Overnight Energy: Rough hearing for Tillerson Trump's pick for EPA chief could clean up Obama mess MORE will be testifying, and I look forward to a lively back-and-forth with the administrator, as I am certain the committee will have questions regarding the effects of the agency’s regulations on farmers and ranchers.
Much of the district that I represent is rural America. We work hard, love our families and love our country. We care deeply about the environment; it is how we make a living. In rural areas like Holmes County, Ohio, conservation and environmental stewardship starts early in life: 4-H programs help teach our youth what it means to be a responsible citizen, and since 1925, FFA has been providing middle and high-school students with an education program focused on agriculture.
Students, farmers, and entrepreneurs now have opportunities to make a fulfilling and fruitful life for themselves and their families that generations of Americans struggled to access. So what are government agencies like the EPA doing? Making it harder to reach those opportunities.
The most obvious and dangerous example of the EPA’s effect on the rural economy is the Waters of the United States rule (WOTUS). This rule is a federal power grab that expands the EPA’s jurisdiction well beyond “navigable waters.” It encroaches on private property rights and creates confusion and uncertainty regarding what does and does not fall under EPA jurisdiction as prescribed in the Clean Water Act. Since it was written and signed into law, the Clean Water Act has been a compact intended to strengthen and empower the federal-state partnership in protecting our natural resources. The new WOTUS rule breaks this partnership, encroaching upon state jurisdiction — which is why 32 states are suing the EPA to stop the rule, including Ohio.
I have argued on the House floor that creating more red tape, mandating unnecessary permits and requiring higher compliance costs risks the drastic improvements we have made in water quality since 1972. Farmers have an economic interest in having access to a safe and clean water supply, too. They need it to water their crops and feed their livestock. In fact, they and their families are often the first ones to drink it. Making it costlier and more onerous to comply could discourage farmers from making necessary improvements like buffer strips and grass waterways.
It’s not just states that are fighting this harmful rule. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Federation of Independent Business, the American Farm Bureau Federation and several state or regional groups filed a lawsuit to stop the EPA. In 2014, dozens of associations and agriculture advocates sent a letter to Congress to warn of the economic impact of the rule.
The text of the rule is not the only problem. The way in which it was crafted and promoted also raises questions. Recently, the Government Accountability Office concluded that the EPA broke the law in promoting WOTUS. By using social media to encourage the public to comment in favor of the rule without acknowledging the message originated from the EPA, the GAO found that they used “covert propaganda.” This is illegal and violated laws that prevent federal agencies from grassroots advocacy and lobbying. One would think that the EPA official responsible would be fired. Sadly, that person has been promoted and now works in the White House.
Since the EPA proposed these changes several years ago, the House has been fighting to make the agency go back to the drawing board to craft a rule that will treat the states as partners rather than adversaries, that will provide clarity of the Clean Water Act, and will protect the rights of farmers, homebuilders and private property owners.
Farmers depend on a fair regulatory system that protects the environment and does not force them to raise prices on consumers. Those consumers, often on an inflexible budget with little room to spare, rely on an agriculture industry to supply them with affordable food to feed their children. So when heavy-handed regulations like WOTUS are created, farmers, ranchers and those in agriculture are right to be skeptical of a rule that has the potential to increase the cost of food. I hope the administration has an answer for why, because of its regulations, a struggling single mother can no longer afford fresh produce.
Gibbs represents Ohio’s 7th Congressional District and has served in the House since 2011. He sits on the Agriculture and the Transportation committees.