EPA promoting water rule to farmers in Missouri

The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) chief is traveling to Missouri this week to promote among farmers the agency’s proposal to redefine its jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act.

The agency has faced some of the harshest backlash to the rule from agricultural representatives, who say that farmers will either have to obtain permits or be outright banned from common farming practices like digging ditches or building fences.

ADVERTISEMENT
“One of the top priorities of mine is to make sure that we hear and listen to the voices of farmers and ranchers and make sure that their interests and concerns are reflected in the work that we do,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy told reporters Tuesday.

The EPA unveiled the “Waters of the United States” rule in March in an attempt to clarify which bodies of water it can regulate, requiring certain permits or prohibiting certain practices that might harm the water. Hundreds of lawmakers — mostly Republicans — have joined a wide range of business interests in fighting the rule and calling it a massive “land grab.”

But McCarthy told reporters that much of the opposition to the rule relies on myths.

“Unfortunately, I think there’s a growing list of misunderstandings that have been floating around,” she said. “And so part of the reason to go down to Missouri is to clarify those issues and to try to knock down some of the misunderstandings.”

McCarthy will visit a farm operated by Bill Heffernan in an attempt to understand how common farming practices and conservation can fit into the EPA’s goals of protecting water. She will also speak at an agricultural meeting in Kansas City, conduct interviews with agricultural media and speak with farmers in other settings.

McCarthy acknowledged that some farmers and others have real problems with the rule

“While there are some legitimate concerns out there with the rule and many issues that we teed up ourselves in the rule to try to seek comment, we’re hearing some concerns that really are, to put frankly, they’re ludacris,” she said.

“Some people say that EPA is going to be regulating small, unconnected waters, including puddles on lawns, driveways and playgrounds. Now, that’s just silly.”

McCarthy said she has heard people say the EPA will regulate ditches and groundwater, and require permits for cows to cross streams. None of those are true, she said.

She said her agency would work with farmers to address their legitimate concerns, but she did not say whether that would involve changes to the proposal.

Apart from the Missouri tour, the EPA’s regional offices are holding outreach events to agriculture throughout the summer, EPA spokeswoman Liz Purchia said. Officials in EPA’s water office are also conducting an outreach tour, with upcoming stops in Texas, Wisconsin and Arizona.

The EPA is gathering comments from the public on the proposal until October.

More in Energy & Environment

New EPA methane rules are a good start, but work isn't done

Read more »