Cattle roaming the land. Lush green corn lining country roads. This is the picture of American agriculture--a picture that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tells us they want to not only stay, but to be even more efficient in the future.
"We at EPA really want to partner with them to get to the common goals we all share: cleaner air, cleaner water, cleaner land," says Sarah Bittleman, EPA Ag Counselor. "At EPA we don’t think we can do it without agriculture."
Despite the EPA's statements, groups such as the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) say it's become a war with the agency.
"We've been fighting EPA for years now. In fact, we joke EPA now stands for eliminating production agriculture, because it seems like every time we turn around they're coming after us," says Collin Woodall, NCBA Vice President of Government Affairs.
"We understand at EPA that we are regarded with a certain amount of cynicism, but the bottom line is we share the same goals as farmers and ranchers," says Bittleman. "We want to see America’s farmers and ranchers be productive; we want [them] to stay on the land and keep growing, producing, and innovating."
NCBA says it's EPA’s actions, not its talk, that spark fear within the industry--fear that one day EPA will dictate not only what they farm or ranch, but how they do it. Woodall says the latest example is the upcoming ruling on the Clean Water Act.
"Now we're worried about their effort to try to once again redefine what is a water of the U.S. by taking the word ‘navigable’ out of that definition," says Woodall.
He says that whether it be an in-ground stock tank or even a dry stream, those bodies of water would be deemed a water of the U.S, and once that happens, he says it falls under the jurisdiction of EPA.
"It'd be a huge land grab, because basically if this moves forward, producers would have to file for a permit from the EPA to use that body of water and the land around it," says Woodall.
"While I understand that people are concerned that EPA not overreach its jurisdictional boundaries on waters of the U.S., we think there’s been a lot of confusion in this area," says Bittleman. "And what EPA is really intending to do is to provide some clarification."
Bittleman says that once the ruling is released, there will be a comment period where producers have time to voice their concerns.
"In the meantime, the existing agricultural exemptions under the law still exist, and we expect will continue to exist," she says.
Bittleman says that despite the vocal concerns from various agriculture groups, EPA wants to help farmers succeed.
"A whole host of folks that actually want to help agriculture stay on the land, keep doing what they're doing, keep doing what they love, and keep improving what they do, she says.
For More Information
Sarah Bittleman will be part of a live broadcast of "AgriTalk," the nation's leading agriculture radio talk show, this week at the Farm Journal Forum. The "Balancing Act: Regulating Innovation" broadcast on Dec. 5th will have host Mike Adams interviewing guests Bittleman and Jack Bobo. Learn more about the Farm Journal Forum.