WEST DES MOINES, Iowa – In April, the Environmental Protection Agency released a proposed rule it said would clarify its jurisdiction over waters of the United States as they related to the Clean Water Act.
The U.S. agricultural sector argued clarity was noticeably lacking in the rule, and in a letter last month to the heads of EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers, more than half of the membership of the U.S. House of Representatives agreed with that assessment.
Last week, EPA extended the comment period on its proposed rule. from late July out to late October. The extension came just one day ahead of a House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee meeting on the rule, in which American Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman argued that the rule hinders normal farming operations, in spite of EPA’s insistence to the contrary.
Iowa Farm Bureau President Craig Hill says the bill reaches so far that any emphasis EPA places on farmer exemptions rings hollow.
“There’s lots of definitions,” says Hill. “There’s a lot of discussion about their authority. It relates to tributaries even waters that move, or are a conduit of water that is currently dry if it’s intermittent or if it’s been interrupted by man or has a man-made creation in it’s path, it is still a water of the U.S. So nearly everything in the state that sheds water would become the jurisdiction of EPA. When EPA says that farmers are exempt, they’re being very disingenuous. It’s rather appalling for them to make that statement after reading this 370 page rule.”
And according to Hill, that’s to say nothing of how quickly a reader can get lost in nearly 400 pages of clunky wording.
“For example, if you farm this property continuously since 1977 without any definition, maybe it says ‘prior converted cropland’ is exempt, without a definition on what ‘prior converted’ is. And they will not accept the current definition of prior converted over NRCS or USDA’s definition.” Hill adds, “they also allow for any other water or any adjacent water; any neighboring water; anything that could convey water or be a conduit of water, is a jurisdiction of EPA when you get into the details.”