Farm Bureau pledges to fight EPA’s water rule

The American Farm Bureau Federation has promised to fight the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) through multiple avenues on its proposed new definition of which bodies of water are under its jurisdiction, saying the rule could “impose unworkable regulations on the nation’s farms.”

Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman called EPA’s proposed rule, known as Waters of the United States, “the biggest federal land grab — in terms of power over land use — that we’ve seen to date.”

EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers proposed the rule in March to clarify which bodies of water — such as wetlands and streams — come under the agencies’ authority to protect under the Clean Water Act. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy stressed that the rule does not significantly expand its authority; it simply clarifies authorities that it has previously used.

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Furthermore, the rule keeps in place long-standing agricultural exemptions, EPA said.

But Republicans and business groups immediately slammed the proposal, saying that it drastically increases the amount of water and land under EPA’s authority. Land that has water flowing through it one day per year, for example, could be subject to EPA’s authority, the Farm Bureau said.

“Can you imagine the level of uncertainty that creates for farmers and ranchers,” Stallman asked. “And the issue that somehow we’re all protected by these exemptions? They actually make the situation worse that it is today.”

If the rule is finalized, EPA could potentially require permits for spraying pesticides, building fences, digging ditches or even planting crops, Stallman said.

“We build a lot of fences in Texas,” he said. “And somehow, that we’re going to need a permit from the EPA and the Corps of Engineers … is just laughable.”

Stallman said the Farm Bureau’s first priority in opposing the rule will be to meet with EPA officials.

The Farm Bureau has asked congressional appropriators to block the rule’s implementation in spending bills. And Stallman said his group will consider suing EPA if it objects to the finalized rule.

“We’re going to work also in the public arena to point out what this rule is going to do,” Stallman said.

Stallman said the proposal, which EPA published Monday in the Federal Register, shows that regulators know very little about agriculture.

He also suggested that EPA’s move could be part of an attempt by environmental activists to regulate agricultural practices.

“In our society, there are elements of the environmental community … that want to use this kind of structure to basically have the federal government control uses of land,” he added.