Several ag organizations have submitted comments to the Environmental Protection Agency regarding its Interpretive Rule on exemptions from permitting under the Clean Water Act. A group of more than 90 organizations – led by the National Pork Producers Council and American Farm Bureau Federation – say the interpretive rule binds farmers and ranchers with new, specific legal obligations under the Clean Water Act and modifies existing regulations interpreting the statutory term normal farming, ranching and silviculture. The interpretive rule would exempt 56 ag activities from a proposed rule that would expand EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers’ authority over certain waters. Based on several U.S. Supreme Court decisions – the groups say that currently includes navigable waters and waters with a significant hydrologic connection to navigable waters. The groups are concerned with the interpretive rule and still urge EPA to withdraw the interpretive rule.
The National Corn Growers Association cited serious concerns in its comments over the rule’s implications for farmers carrying out normal activities. NCGA says details concerning these activities or conservation work carried out in the context of an intermittent stream and its riparian zone will be considerably different than those for when the work is carried out in an ephemeral drainage feature in an upland area in a farm field. NCGA is concerned the proposed rule encompasses both features as WOTUS. Ultimately – NCGA asks EPA to withdraw the Interpretive Rule and work with the ag community to develop an alternative approach that would allow for farmer comment.
The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and Public Lands Council also filed comments on the rule – saying it increases liability for participation in conservation practices – voluntary or not. For example – NCBA Environmental Council Ashley McDonald says one of the 56 exempted practices is prescribed grazing – so it makes grazing a discharge activity – which means cattle producers would be required to obtain a permit to graze unless they have a NRCS-approved grazing plan. NCBA President Bob McCan says the chilling effect on participation in conservation activities will be compounded when NRCS is seen as wielding the final say on whether a producer is in violation of the Clean Water Act or not. NCBA and PLC also encourage this rule to be withdrawn.