Several agricultural groups submitted recommendations for a revised definition of “waters of the United States,” known as the WOTUS rule. Comments were filed with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Army Corps of Engineers as part of the rulemaking process. Disappointed by the recent decision to vacate the 2020 Navigable Waters Protection Rule, ag groups have been pushing for more consideration in the rulemaking process. Several public stakeholder meetings were held prior to the close of the comment period on September 3. During one of the meetings, National Farmers Union Vice President Patty Edelburg provided comments that have been heralded by many farmers and ranchers.
“As the Army Corps of Engineers and the EPA start writing rules to achieve sound environmental goals, we also ask that you consider the needs farmers and ranchers have for those rules to be clear, easy to interpret, and economically practical,” said Edelburg. “We also strongly encourage the agencies to continue to conduct outreach, to listen carefully to the concerns of farmers and ranchers, and to understand the unique challenges they face on their land.”
The American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) also raised concerns about the revising of the WOTUS rule. In the recommendations made to EPA, AFBF expressed support for retaining the Navigable Waters Protection Rule. Failing that, AFBF recommends adhering to the concept of ‘navigable’ in the next iteration of the rule. Other recommendations included adhering to previous Supreme Court precedents and limiting jurisdiction over certain wetlands and non-navigable tributaries. AFBF was joined by the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, Fertilizer Institute, National Milk Producers Federation, and Agricultural Retailers Association in the comments submitted to EPA.
“The regulation of low spots on farmlands and pastures as jurisdictional “waters” means that any activity on those lands that moves dirt or applies any product to that land could be subject to regulation,” the ag groups stated in their comments to EPA. “Everyday activities such as plowing, planting, or fence building in or near ephemeral drainages, ditches, or low spots could trigger the CWA’s harsh civil or even criminal penalties unless a permit is obtained. The tens of thousands of additional costs for federal permitting of ordinary farming activities, however, is beyond the means of many family or small business farming or ranching owners.”