Stopping a federal land grab

Farm Forum

November 14 marked the last day where the public could comment on what could become the largest federal land grab in our country’s history. So, what’s the next step?

Last March, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers proposed changing the definition of “waters of the U.S.” It’s one of those things bureaucracies try to do to expand their control. Currently, the term “waters of the U.S.” encompasses all waters that are navigable or waterways that significantly connect to navigable ones. What the EPA and Army Corps are trying to do is expand the rule to include much smaller bodies of water and even some areas that are only seasonally wet.

In practical terms, it could mean ditches, small ponds, and prairie potholes could be regulated by the EPA and Army Corps. Farmers, ranchers, and homeowners could have to get permits for things like controlling bugs and weeds on their fields or lawn – or building a fence around their property. If you fail to comply, fines could reach as high as $37,500 per violation per day.

It’s not difficult to see why folks are so concerned and why many I spoke to planned to submit a comment to regulators. Even though the public comment period is now expired, our fight continues.

The strategy we’re taking is two pronged: Cut off the resources needed to move the proposal forward and apply as much pressure as we can on the EPA and Army Corps to withdraw the proposal. It’s a strategy that I’ve helped make work in the past.

When I was first elected to Congress, the EPA was reviewing their regulations on dust, including dust that is part of many everyday farming activities. We applied legislative pressure through a bill I wrote and the EPA moved in a different direction. In another instance, we combined pressure from Congress and pressure from the public to get the Department of Labor to rescind a rule that could have banned kids from doing some chores on their relative’s or neighbor’s farms. And when OSHA was attempting to impose hefty regulations and fines on small family farms, we took the agency head on and they reversed course.

Already, I have helped the House pass limited legislation to ensure FY2015 funds are not used to move the EPA’s proposal forward; the bill has not been taken up by the Senate, however. I have thrown my support behind H.R.5078, which prohibits the EPA and Army Corps from developing, finalizing, adopting, implementing, applying, administering, or enforcing – in other words, moving forward in any way – the proposal. Myself and more than 200 other Members of Congress – both Republicans and Democrats – have written the EPA and Army Corps about our concerns as well. And I will continue to do all I can to fight this rule.

What I’ve had a hard time understanding – and what I bluntly asked an administration official who was testifying before the Agriculture Committee a few months ago – is why they are pursuing the rule they claim is helpful when almost everybody is opposed to it. Needless to say, I didn’t get a straightforward response.

We all ought to be able to turn on the faucet or go fishing and know the water is safe. But there has to be a way to do it without farmers, ranchers, homeowners, and property owners having to turn to the EPA when they want to put up a fence. It’s just not practical.