Wednesday, February 04, 2015

EPA withdraws interpretive rule on farming and ranching exemptions from Clean Water Act

The Environmental Protection Agency has withdrawn a rule interpreting "waters of the United States" that would have regulated "which conservation activities provide farmers an exemption from Clean Water Act permitting," Janell Thomas reports for Farm Futures. "Many farm groups opposed the Interpretive Rule, which offered 56 'normal farming and ranching' exemptions under the regulations of the Natural Resources Conservation Service."

Opponents "said using these practices as CWA exemptions would alter farmer-NRCS interaction and discourage environmental best practices," Thomas writes. "Historically, they have been voluntary, and the farming practices have been exempt from the permit process."

EPA said in a press release: “EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers have followed statutory directive and withdrawn the interpretive rule. The exemptions from Clean Water Act permits for discharges of dredged and/or fill material will continue to apply for normal farming, silviculture [forestry] and ranching activities, as well as for other qualifying agricultural activities under 404(f)(1). Withdrawal of the interpretive rule also does not impact the agencies' work to finalize its rulemaking to define the scope of the Clean Water Act.”

The decision won't impact EPA's Clean Water Act rules, which are expected to be finalized this spring, even though Congressional Republicans are laying the groundwork for an effort to stop the proposed rules, reports Agri-Pulse, a Washington newsletter. "Julia Anastasio, executive director of the Association of Clean Water Agencies, an organization of state regulatory agencies, says that finalizing the WOTUS rule will likely trigger a court battle because any changes the administration makes are unlikely to satisfy the business interests that are worried about it." Agri-Pulse is subscription only, but a free trial is available by clicking here.

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