GOP: EPA water rule could harm farmers

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House Republicans clashed with Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials Wednesday over the agency's controversial plan to regulate small bodies of water, which the GOP says could hurt American farmers.

Repubilcans fear the EPA's proposed Waters of the U.S. rule would expand the agency's authority to include small rivers, streams and ponds around the country, which they say could hurt farmers whose lands are strategically surrounded by water.

"I own a farm, I have a few ponds, the last place I would put a farm is where there is no water," Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) said during a House Science Committee hearing.

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Many farmers have expressed concerns that they will be regulated under the new rule even if they just have a small puddle or a ditch that fills up with water when it rains in their backyard, Massie said.

"I think [the farm] would have to be under a roof, really, to be completely dry," he said.

But EPA Deputy Administrator Robert Perciasepe chalked the controversy up to a misunderstanding. He told lawmakers his agency does not intend to take the rule that far and said it is "unfair" for Republicans to suggest otherwise. 

"We're not expanding the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act," Perciasepe testified. "Rest assured, wet farm lands are not jurisdictional. That means the puddle in my backyard, my roof drains, don't have those characteristics, so obviously, they're not covered by the rule."

The EPA proposed the rule in March in an effort to regulate smaller bodies of water around the country. The agency already regulates larger bodies of water, such as the portions of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans that border the U.S.

Republicans have accused the EPA of making a blatant power grab with the regulation. They complain the language of the rule is so vague that it opens the door for the agency to regulate "every drop of water" in the U.S. 

But they say they are mostly concerned that the EPA will go after farmers.

"You just have people in the West completely terrified about this," Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) said at the hearing.

Perciasepe said that is not the case, but he admitted that the EPA's rule should have been written more clearly so it would be less confusing.

"We need to do a better job of explaining that," he said. 

Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (Texas), the committee's top Democrat, defended the EPA's rule, backing up Perciasepe's claims. 

"There has been a significant amount of confusion about what waters will be subject to the requirements of the Clean Water Act in light of the proposed rule, and today's hearing provides us with the opportunity to clear up any misconceptions," Johnson said.

But Republicans remained skeptical. 

"It may not be what you intended, but it is what the words say," House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) said. 

Meanwhile, Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) had harsher words for Perciasepe. He accused the EPA of being "arrogant" and asked Perciasepe to withdraw the rule.

"The problem is the public doesn't trust the EPA, farmers don't trust the EPA not to overreach, Congress doesn't trust the EPA," Collins said. 

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