Farm Bureau skeptical about EPA’s final ‘Waters’ rule

Farm Forum

Huron, SD — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has published the final version of its “Waters of the U.S.” rule, and now agriculture groups like Farm Bureau are combing through the details in the lengthy and complex document to see if agriculture’s concerns were indeed addressed during the comment period.

Scott VanderWal farms and raises cattle near Volga, S.D. and is the president of the South Dakota Farm Bureau.

“We’re working closely with our partners at the American Farm Bureau Federation to analyze what exactly is in this final version of the rule, but I’m not holding out much hope that the EPA listened to what farmers and ranchers had to say about this flawed and over-reaching rule,” VanderWal said.

EPA held an extended public comment period and reportedly received more than one million comments. The question remains as to how many of those comments were actually substantive, and whether those substantive comments – like those submitted by farmers and ranchers and the organizations which represent them – were given full consideration.

“Even though Congress has established, and the courts have upheld, a system where only navigable waters were subject to federal regulation, from the start EPA has seemed intent on crossing that boundary and reaching into the small – and often temporary – waters that sometimes dot our farms and ranches. In doing so, the EPA will have its hands in our individual decisions on land-use, where they have absolutely no jurisdiction,” VanderWal added.

Bob Stallman, President of the American Farm Bureau Federation, called into question EPA’s tactics during the comment period, in which the agency seemed to be aggressively pushing for its agenda in what should be a fair and open process.

“EPA’s decision to mount an aggressive advocacy campaign during the comment period has tainted what should have been an open and thoughtful deliberative process,” Stallman commented. “While we know that farmers and ranchers were dedicated to calling for substantial changes to the rule, we have serious concerns about whether their comments were given full consideration.”

A recent New York Times article explores how the EPA may have pushed the limits of federal lobbying law by orchestrating an extensive public relations campaign to counter opposition to the “Waters of the U.S.” rule and gain support in coordination with environmental groups. According to the piece, the Obama administration is the first to give the EPA a mandate to create such broad outreach campaigns in support of federal environmental regulations before they are final.

Farm Bureau’s review of the EPA’s final rule should be complete in the next few days. It is looking specifically at how the rule treats temporary streams, ditches, small ponds and isolated wetlands. If these are now categorized as “Waters of the U.S.” by the federal government, it will have far-reaching consequences for agriculture.