EPA to reach out to farmers on water jurisdiction rule

Environmental Protection Agency officials are planning to meet with farmers and agricultural interests this summer about their proposal to redefine the extent of the federal government’s water jurisdiction, starting with a visit next week to Missouri.

EPA leaders, including Administrator Gina McCarthy, will try to clear up misunderstandings about the proposed rule and encourage the agriculture industry to submit formal comments on it, agency spokeswoman Liz Purchia said Tuesday.

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“We really want to use the summer as an opportunity to get out of D.C. and meet with people,” Purchia said.

The Waters of the United States proposal has proven extremely controversial since it was unveiled in March. The EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers say the proposal is needed to reestablish which bodies of water the government can oversee for Clean Water Act purposes.

Agricultural representatives and their allies in Congress have called it a “land grab” that would put new restrictions on basic farm practices like digging ditches or draining small ponds, while other business interests have also assailed it. Republican senators wrote an open letter to McCarthy Tuesday saying the rule would harm Independence Day fireworks shows.

Nancy Stoner, the EPA’s acting assistant administrator for water, previewed the agency’s outreach efforts in a Monday blog post aimed at farmers.

“The rule keeps intact all Clean Water Act exemptions and exclusions for agriculture that farmers count on,” Stoner wrote. “But it does more for farmers by actually expanding those exemptions.”

Stoner argued that recent court cases have added red tape and confusion to the process of determining whether something falls under the EPA’s jurisdiction. But the proposed rule would add certainty and clarity to the process, she said.

In Missouri next week, McCarthy will visit a farm, meet with farmers, give a speech, meet with agricultural groups and give interviews to agricultural trade media, Purchia said. The EPA will also announce more details of its outreach efforts next week.

The EPA recently extended the public comment period for its proposal to October, from the original deadline of June, in an effort to encourage more input.

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