As farm interests line up against water regs, EPA officials begin the hard sell


McClatchy Washington Bureau

The Environmental Protection Agency, admitting that “we haven’t had the best relationship with the agriculture industry in the past,” is beginning a push for a proposed new water rule that has generated strong opposition from farm communities.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy will be in Missouri Wednesday and Thursday to talk up the rule with farmers and agribusiness leaders. Included will be a farm visit in Rocheport, Mo., on Wednesday, and a speech on Thursday at the Kansas City Agribusiness Council Luncheon.

Republican lawmakers in both houses of Congress are pushing back against the proposed “Waters of the U.S.” rule, saying it oversteps federal authority and would bring routine farm practices under the purview of government regulators. In the Senate, Sen. Pat Roberts is one of more than 30 senators to co-sponsor legislation to prevent the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers from finalizing the rule.

Roberts said that multiple groups in his state -- associations ranging from producers of soybeans, wheat and pork, to superintendents of golf courses -- oppose the rule. Nationally, the American Farm Bureau Federation is against it.

The EPA is pushing back against the push-back, saying the proposed rule doesn’t come close to doing what its opponents allege. The EPA said the rule is designed to clarify and formalize which bodies of water are covered by the Clean Water Act, which has morphed over the years because of decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court.

In a blog post Monday, a top EPA official laid out what the rule would and wouldn’t do:

“So EPA and the Corps are bringing clarity and consistency to the process, cutting red tape and saving money. The proposed Waters of the U.S. rule does not regulate new types of ditches, does not regulate activities on land, and does not apply to groundwater. The proposal does not change the exemption for stock ponds, does not require permits for normal farming activities like moving cattle, and does not regulate puddles.”

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