Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Farmers worry about EPA's new water rules; advocates say regulation will expand only slightly

Proposed Environmental Protection Agency regulations that could expand its jurisdiction over streams could prove costly for farmers, forcing them to obtain permits in instances where they have previously been exempt, Ron Nixon reports for The New York Times. "EPA says the new rules are needed to clarify which bodies of water it must oversee under the federal Clean Water Act, an issue of jurisdiction that the agency says has been muddled by recent court rulings. Opponents say the rules are a power grab that could stifle economic growth and intrude on property owners’ rights." (NYT photo by Jenn Ackerman: Farmers like Dean Lemke of Dows, Iowa are worried about the regulations)

Under the proposed rules, farmers would have to pay fees for environmental assessments "just to till the soil near gullies, ditches or dry streambeds where water only flows when it rains," Nixon writes. "A permit is required for any activity, like farming or construction, that creates a discharge into a body of water covered under the Clean Water Act or affects the health of it, like filling in a wetland or blocking a stream." EPA has not said when the rules will be announced. 

Advocates of the regulations argue that people are overreacting, and that the EPA's jurisdiction over streams will only increase by 3 percent, Nixon writes. Jan Goldman-Carter, a lawyer with the National Wildlife Federation, told Nixon, “The draft guidance is clear that irrigation ditches, drainage ponds and even groundwater are not considered waters of the U.S. Nor are gullies, rills, swales and other erosional features. This has been explained over and over again.” She said "Industry claims that ditches or groundwater might be covered under the new regulations are 'just wrong.'” 

Critics say "the new rules failed to comply with regulatory requirements and relied on a flawed economic analysis concerning its effect on industry," Nixon writes. They also "said the scientific report the agency and the Army Corps of Engineers relied on to justify the new rules had not been reviewed by other scientists." (Read more)

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