News Feature | April 1, 2014

Farmers Wary Of EPA Overseeing Tiny Streams

By Sara Jerome
@sarmje

farmreg

The EPA's plan to expand the scope of waters that fall under its regulatory jurisdiction is raising alarm bells with farmers. 

Just ask Dean Lemke, a farmer in Dows, IA. He is a former state water-quality official, and he is concerned that the EPA will exert its authority over a tiny stream on his property. 

"Water rarely flows in one of the streambeds," the New York Times reported. "It really seems to be little more than a small ditch." 

Lemke sees the EPA's plan as potentially costly for him and other farmers. Here is an early version of the EPA's proposed rule. 

If the agency expands its jurisdiction over streams, "the move could prove costly by requiring farmers to pay fees for environmental assessments and to get permits just to till the soil near gullies, ditches, or dry streambeds where water only flows when it rains," the report said. 

Small agriculture interests are wary of new permitting mandates.

"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," it said. 

Farmers are taking a stand against the EPA's effort via the Water Advocacy Coalition. It includes the American Farm Bureau Federation and other business stakeholders. 

"In a letter last month to the White House and members of Congress, the coalition said the agency’s decision to move forward on the new rules failed to comply with regulatory requirements and relied on a flawed economic analysis concerning its effect on industry. The coalition 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," the report said. 

Some voices say the courts will have the final say on the breadth of the Clean Water Act. 

"A series of Supreme Court decisions have cast some doubt on the authority of the Clean Water Act to be used to regulate waterways, to the point where 87 members of Congress in a letter to the White House urged the Obama administration to 'protect America’s waterways by closing loopholes in the Clean Water Act,'” the Idaho Reporter said

For its part, the EPA says its proposal is needed to protect the environment and reduce regulatory uncertainty. 

It "said the purposes of the proposed rule are to ensure protection of aquatic resources and make the process of identifying which are federally protected waters, or 'waters of the United States,' less complicated and more efficient," Bloomberg BNA reported

Image credit: "Benton Farms HDR," © 2008 thaddselden, used under an Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

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