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Congress Needs Your Help

A while back, Robert Bonnie, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s under secretary for Resources and Environment, was in front of the U.S. House Agriculture Subcommittee to answer questions from the bi-partisan panel over the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposal for defining what falls under the agency’s jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act (CWA). 

This “interpretive rule” for the waters of the U.S. plan is part of what all the concerns from agriculture are about, and there has been lots of noise across the nation against the plan and needs to be more. Ag and livestock leaders from across the country are asking their members and those involved in agriculture to please send in their comments on the plan.

Members of both sides of the aisle in Congress have been against the plan. Bringing Robert Bonnie up to the committee to sit in the hot seat really put the bull’s eye on him and the plan.  Bonnie told the lawmakers that an “interpretive rule” on farming and ranching exemptions under the CWA, issued at the same time as the EPA proposal to define waters of the U.S., ensures that 56 specific agricultural conservation practices, executed under the standards of the USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), would not be subject to CWA permitting requirements. While he told them that the practices are completely voluntary, the committee members didn’t buy it, telling Bonnie the EPA’s proposal would result in NRCS functioning more like a regulatory agency, rather than one that’s suppose to work with farmers and ranchers using conservation to improve their lands.  

Representative Glenn Thompson (R-Penn.), the chairman of the Subcommittee on Conservation, Energy and Forestry, said farmers might be discouraged from employing any conservation practices if they don’t want to face consequences of the CWA, which can include fines of $37,500 per day.  

“What was voluntary is now compulsory,” said Thompson.

Representative Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), the ranking member of the full Agriculture Committee, also criticized the rule and submitted a list of over 100 conservation practices by NRCS, half of which are not included in the EPA’s interpretive rule.  

“How do you say you’re covering everything when it’s not true?” he said. 

Several Democratic members said the rule is ambiguous.  

“If this was intended to provide clarity, I can’t see that that’s been effective,” said Representative Ann McLane Kuster (D-N.H.). Representative Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), rejected Bonnie’s repeated declarations that the interpretive rule is voluntary.  

“It’s crystal clear you are trying to establish regulatory guidelines by which a person farms,” said Schrader.  “It is not voluntary. There are farmers and ranchers across the country that do not want to have this rule in any shape or form.”

A large number of national ag organizations spoke against the interpretive rule while only one spoke in favor of the EPA plan – and that was the Executive Director of the Izaak Walton League of America.

The great nature photographer, Ansel Adams once said, “It is horrifying that we have to fight our own government to save the environment.”

Read more about the interpretive rule on page 14 of this week’s Roundup. Please send in your comments.