Today, Andy Fabin, cattle producer and farmer from Indiana, Penn., testified before the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation, Energy, Commerce and Forestry, regarding the impacts of the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ "interpretive rule" on the Normal Farming and Ranching exemptions under Sec. 404 of the Clean Water Act.
"As a farmer, my willingness to implement voluntary conservation practices has been greatly diminished, despite my desire to improve and protect the waters on my farm," said Fabin, who raises cattle and farms 3,500 acres of corn, soybeans, wheat and rye. "If the interpretive rule remains in place, farmers and ranchers across the country will slow their adoption of conservation practices."
Coupled with the proposed rule expanding the jurisdictional reach of the EPA and the Corps under the Clean Water Act, the interpretive rule will increase liability for farmers and ranchers. For property owners like Fabin, the ephemeral streams, ponds and ditches found across their pastures would fall under the EPA and the Corps’ jurisdiction, and would require permits for any activities taking place on the land. While the agencies have exempted 56 farming and ranching practices, as long as they meet the specific Natural Resource Conservation Service standards, any deviation from these standards can result in fines of up to $37,500 per day.
"EPA, the Corps and now even the NRCS would have me believe that, despite the expanded definition, all the activities that take place on my farm are exempted," said Fabin. "This is, at a minimum, a negligent mischaracterization, and more likely, an intentionally deceptive tactic being used to pacify the agricultural community. Not all agricultural activities are exempted under the Clean Water Act, and this proposal would expand the number of farming activities that need permits, requiring many farmers like myself to seek 402 National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits or 404 Dredge and Fill permits."
According to the EPA, the 56 exempted practices, including prescribed grazing, were chosen because they have the potential to discharge if they are done in a "water of the U.S." This effectively makes grazing a discharge activity, and cattle producers will now be required to obtain a permit to graze unless they have a NRCS-approved grazing plan.
"NRCS was created to help farmers on a voluntary basis," said Fabin. "but now, NRCS personnel are going to have to spend their entire time checking compliance of voluntary conservation activities instead of assisting farmers and ranchers in continuing to improve the waters around their properties. The model of voluntary conservation that has been the pinnacle of farmers and ranchers protection of our natural resources is going to be upended."
Not only should the EPA and the Corps withdraw their overreaching definition of "waters of the U.S.," but they should also immediately withdraw the interpretive rule because, ultimately, the only affect it will have is to decrease beneficial conservation activities.
Source: National Cattlemen's Beef Association