During a recent Senate Ag Committee hearing, Indiana Senator Joe Donnelly pressed a top USDA official on conservation regulations and proposed clean water rules. NRCS chief Jason Weller was in the hot seat when Senator Donnelly pressed him on efforts by EPA and USDA to regulate conservation efforts. Donnelly said farmers want clean water and don’t need more regulations to achieve it, “Our farmers feel we work nonstop every day to voluntarily comply to make our waters cleaner, and all we hear is more government regulations.”
The South Bend Democrat said the proposed interpretive rule by the EPA would force some farmers to get permits in order to implement conservation practices on their farms, “Many Hoosier farmers say they were unaware that using conservation practices would trigger clean water act permitting requirements.” During the hearing, Donnelly expressed the frustration he has heard regarding the confusing attempt by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Army Corps of Engineers, and the NRCS to update the rules defining waters protected by the CWA. He asked Chief Weller if USDA and EPA were aware that their proposal would have these unintended consequences.
Weller admitted the proposed EPA rule would have unintended consequences, “The attempt was to help streamline program and regulations, but we are also aware that there have been unintended consequences and confusion and even a disincentive to participate in conservation efforts.” Donnelly urged the agencies to work more effectively with the agricultural community to solve the problem without additional, burdensome regulation. Finally, Donnelly emphasized the great work many Hoosier farmers have voluntarily taken to improve water quality throughout the state and questioned Chief Weller on how we can best expand those efforts. Additionally, Donnelly has worked to improve NRCS policies regarding cover crop management.