Senators introduced legislation to require the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to redo its proposed waters of the U.S. rule. The federal Water Quality Protection Act comes after several congressional attempts to get the agency to withdraw the proposed rule that would greatly expand the waters EPA regulates. In this Farm Journal Report, Michelle Rook looks at regulatory overreach in D.C.
The regulatory push in Washington continues to escalate, despite a change in Senate leadership and control after the mid-term elections.
"The Administration has been moving full speed ahead in what we view to be an overreaching way when it comes to the regulatory regime they're imposing on various sectors of our economy." Says South Dakota Senator John Thune, who also sits on the Senate Ag Committee. "But no place has probably felt that more than agriculture. "
In fact, Thune is one of many lawmakers that thinks the regulatory pressure is getting worse.
"The EPA is an activist agency that is I think getting political with their decisions and their policies,” says Nebraska Congressman Adrian Smith, a member of House Ways and Means Committee. “They're doing things Congress never intended."
They say the agenda ranges from rules on greenhouse gases, to EPA's delay on the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) Volumes.
"It still is unacceptable that the EPA has been dragging its feet on releasing standards,” says Senate Ag Committee’s Joni Ernst, a Senator from Iowa.
After a three year delay EPA just sent initial RFS volumes to Office of Budget and Management. That will be released June 1. But ethanol industry officials say it's more important they get the volumes right this time.
"They got it wrong, they went backwards,” says Tom Buis, Growth Energy CEO. “I think they realize they got it wrong, and hopefully this time they move forward in getting back on track with the statutory requirements established by the law."
However, no regulation has garnered more concern than the Waters of the U.S. rule or what EPA now refers to as the Clean Water Rule.
"This is the number one regulatory issue all across the country,” says Senate Ag Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, a Senator from Kansas.
The fear is the term navigable waters will be expanded in the Clean Water Act to include water bodies such as ditches.
"Well I think the most important thing is to make sure that agriculture's exemptions, that have always been there, remain,” says Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow, also Senate Ag Committee Ranking Member.
Despite attempts by Congress to stop the Waters of the U.S. rule and thousands of comments opposing it, EPA has continued forward with this controversial proposal.
"You know, right now we understand that the revised WOTUS rule is at the Office of Management and Budget to be reviewed,” explains Colin Woodall, with National Cattlemen's Beef Association. “When it comes out, it will be a final rule, so no comments will be allowed."
This is a red flag for farm groups, as well as lawmakers, many of whom support a bill just introduced to stop EPA.
"That demands that they start over on the Waters of the U.S. regulation and do a better job of taking it into consideration the comments that have been made to them on that bill,” says Texas Congressman and House Ag Committee Chair Michael Conaway.
And if that doesn't work Roberts says Congress can always resort to defunding the agency.
"Okay that's a final rule it's in effect, but you have to implement it,” says Roberts. “You can't implement it if you do not have the money to implement it.”
However, the rule may ultimately face a legal battle.
"We don't think there is anything that she could have done to change this rule that would make it good for us,” says Woodall. “So we will work together as a coalition of all end users to take EPA to court on this."
And this isn't the first regulation in this Administration that's been legally challenged. However, if it's not stopped the fear is it could end up making it more difficult and expensive for farmers to do business.