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Cut to the Chase: ‘Clarifiying’ water rules worrying farmers

By Garrett Hawkins

I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count the number of times Disney’s animated film “Frozen” has played in my home or in my car the last two months.
Nor can I begin to count the number of times my little girl has performed the song “Let It Go” on our in-home stage, aka the coffee table.
I love it, but sometimes after hearing the tune five times in a row, I want to throw my hands up and cry “that’s enough!”
Farmers and ranchers have had enough too – enough of the never-ending flood of regulation bursting from the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, D.C. At the moment, EPA is partnering with the Army Corps of Engineers in an effort to “clarify” (their word, not mine) the federal Clean Water Act through a proposed rule.
It wasn’t too long ago when the U.S. Congress rejected legislation to remove the word “navigable” from the 1972 law, which would have opened the flood gates in the reach of the EPA and the Corps.  The agencies attempted to accomplish the same goal through a guidance document in 2012.
Officials pulled the plug after facing widespread opposition from farmers, landowners, homebuilders, small business owners and others concerned about property rights, economic development and more government.
The EPA and Corps are back again with a formal rulemaking, claiming they are not broadening coverage of the CWA but providing clarity.
The proposed rule is long and complex, and the devil is always in the details.  Summed up, CWA clarity would basically be achieved by the agencies classifying most water features and even dry land as “waters of the U.S.” by rule. Most ditches, small and remote “waters” and ephemeral drains where water moves only when it rains are at risk.  These features are not navigable nor are they even wet most of the time.
New to the discussion is a list of 56 exemptions for farmers and ranchers.  The exemptions, however, don’t apply to new or expanded farms or cover weed control, fertilizer use and other common farming practices.
The EPA and Corps in reality have narrowed existing exemptions by tying them to mandatory compliance with what used to be voluntary Natural Resources Conservation Service standards.  Because these exemptions are not part of the rule but, rather, included in an interpretive rule that is more like agency guidance, EPA and NRCS could narrow them further at any time.
Had enough?  Missouri Farm Bureau has and that’s why we are urging the EPA to “ditch the rule.”  In the new MFB YouTube video “That’s Enough,” a parody of “Let It Go,” the Clay family of Moniteau County shows its frustration through song and a little humor.
The public comment period for the proposed rule closes July 21.  Please visit ditchtherule.fb.org to learn more and join the chorus of farmers and landowners telling the EPA and Corps to “let it go” and ditch the rule!
Garrett Hawkins is Missouri Farm Bureau’s director of national legislation.

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