WASHINGTON, D.C. – Yesterday, U.S. Rep. Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson (R-PA), chairman of the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation, Energy and Forestry, held a public hearing to review the interpretive rule regarding the applicability of Clean Water Act (CWA) agricultural exemptions.
The CWA was signed into law in 1972 with the intent to preserve water quality in the United States by regulating discharges of pollution into the country’s water system. Although the intent of the CWA was for the federal government to regulate navigable waters, recent court decisions have brought into question which bodies of water the CWA has jurisdiction over. In response to the legal uncertainty, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed a rule to further clarify which waters are within CWA jurisdiction.
Additionally, the EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued an interpretive rule to explain how the proposed rule would impact CWA exemptions for agricultural activities. The rule was drafted in consultation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and was the focus of the hearing. The USDA, EPA and the Corps signed a memorandum of understanding among the three agencies spelling out how they would coordinate implementing the interpretive rule.
During the hearing, subcommittee members examined to what extent the interpretive rule will offer producers certainty regarding permitting needs for CWA exemptions and whether or not the rule will encourage producers to engage in future conservation practices.
“There is growing concern the newly proposed rule released by the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps poses a grave threat to the economic vitality and ecological health of our farming communities,” said Thompson.
“The Administration has argued this rule is intended to eliminate ambiguity and offer greater protections for producers and landowners, when in fact it will create new regulatory burdens, more ambiguity, and less certainty.
“The subcommittee received testimony from agriculture stakeholders on how these new requirements will also discourage farmers and landowners from engaging in conservation practices, which is of fundamental concern. We remain committed to provide oversight that will ultimately clarify the intent, scope, and impact of these new authorities. The hearing is the beginning, not the end, of the dialogue on this important topic that affects all counties, local municipalities and landowners in the United States.”
“This hearing gives us the opportunity to discuss the issue of clean water and the impact of agricultural conservation programs on rural communities,” said Subcommittee Ranking Member Timothy J. Walz (D-MN). “As we move forward, we need more clarity and we need our farmers and sportsmen to speak up and speak out to ensure Congress strikes the right balance.”
Written testimony provided by the witnesses is linked below.
Robert Bonnie, under secretary for Natural Resources and Environment, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Washington, D.C.
Don Parrish, senior director, Regulatory Relations, American Farm Bureau Federation, Washington, D.C.
Andy Fabin, producer, Fabin Bros. Farms, Indiana, Pa., on behalf of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association
Chip Bowling, first vice president, National Corn Growers Association, Newburg, Md.
Scott Kovarovics, executive director, Izaak Walton League of America, Gaithersburg, Md.