House bills address farm concerns with EPA ‘waters’ proposal

congressTwo bills that have bipartisan support in the U.S. House of Representatives address serious concerns voiced by the American Farm Bureau Federation about the EPA’s proposed “Waters of the U.S.” rule.

Issued earlier this year, the rule would give the EPA broad jurisdiction over dry land features and farming practices that historically has been relegated to individual states under the Clean Water Act.

H.R. 5078, the Waters of the United States Regulatory Overreach Protection Act of 2014, was introduced by Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Fla., and has been approved by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. It would prohibit the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers from implementing a rule that broadens the scope of the Clean Water Act and would effectively block the proposed “Waters of the U.S.” rule.

A second bill addresses concerns about common farm practices that have been exempt from Clean Water Act regulation but could lose that status under the proposed rule.

In March the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers issued an interpretive rule to clarify how “Waters of the U.S.” would affect normal farming, ranching and forestry exemptions. AFBF analysis determined that the interpretive rule narrows the list of existing exemptions and would require compliance with otherwise voluntary U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service standards. The proposal puts the USDA in the unprecedented position of enforcing Clean Water Act compliance.

Reps. Chris Collins, R-N.Y.; Bob Gibbs, R-Ohio; Frank Lucas, R-Okla.; Collin Peterson, D-Minn.; Reid Ribble, R-Wis.; Kurt Schrader, D-Ore.; and Glenn Thompson, R-Pa., have introduced H.R. 5071, The Agricultural Conservation Flexibility Act. The bill clarifies that existing Clean Water Act exemptions for normal farming, ranching and forestry apply to all conservation activities without regard to the interpretive rule.

The bill further states that no soil and water conservation practices will be treated as new uses of areas of navigable waters, impairments of the flow of navigable waters or reductions in the reach of those waters under recapture provisions in Section 404 of the Clean Water Act. The bill also clarifies that normal farming, ranching and forestry activities will be treated as such without regard to their date of commencement.

The AFBF has assembled articles and analysis relevant to the proposed rule at ditchtherule.fb.org. The organization asserts that the EPA proposal exposes U.S. farmers and ranchers to potential fines and penalties for ordinary farming activities.

AFBF President Bob Stallman called the rule “an end-run around Congress and the Supreme Court. … If more people knew how regulators could use the proposed rule to require permits for common activities on dry land or penalize landowners for not getting them, they would be outraged.”

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