Pennsylvania farmer warns lawmakers about EPA’s ‘waters of the U.S.’ proposal
Altoona-Just because a homeowner's lawn or a farm field collects water after it rains does not mean EPA has the authority to regulate those puddles as "waters of the U.S." under the Clean Water Act, Pennsylvania beef and grain farmer Tommy Nagle told the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee today at a field hearing in Altoona, Pennsylvania.
Speaking on behalf of Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, Nagle testified that farmers are concerned about the possible consequences of EPA's proposal on farms and the viability of family businesses. Nagle and farmers and ranchers across the country worry that EPA's expanded authority could result in the elimination of accepted farm practices, new permit requirements for controlling pests or mowing grass across a ditch, and much worse.
"What if the ultimate effect of this rule prevents farmers from passing their operations on to their children or prevents young people-like me-from becoming farmers?" asked Nagle.
Farm Bureau maintains that Congress clearly intended regulations under the Clean Water Act to focus on navigable waters, not ponds, ditches or puddles that occur on land during a heavy rainstorm. In addition, two Supreme Court rulings have affirmed that the federal government is limited to regulating "navigable" waters.
"Those of us in agriculture believe that the authors of the Clean Water Act included the term 'navigable' for a reason," said Nagle, who with his wife, Tracy, raises a herd of beef cattle and grows corn, soybeans and other grains on 775 acres in Central Pennsylvania.
Farm Bureau notes that the proposed regulatory language effectively erases current limitations on EPA and Army Corps authority. The proposed rule is supposed to be a clarification, but it seems to only provide more confusion and less clarity for farm families whose land will be judged by these agencies.
"If I guess wrong on their judgment, I could face fines of up to $37,500 per day. If they guess wrong, I have to go to court to correct it. That's a scary thought," added Nagle.
The American Farm Bureau Federation, like the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, is questioning the validity of EPA claims that agricultural exemptions currently provided under the federal Clean Water Act should relieve farmers of any need to worry about the proposed rule. Exemptions provided in the act are mostly limited to plowing and earth moving activities and do not apply to the use of fertilizers or similar farm inputs on farm fields.
If the proposed rule becomes final, many practices in fields could require government approval through a complex process of federal permitting.
AFBF and the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau are asking EPA and the Corps to extend the comment period on the proposed rule from 90 days to 180 days in order to allow farmers, who are actively engaged in planting their crops, time to fully review how the proposed changes will affect their businesses and provide feedback.
Additionally, Farm Bureau is calling on EPA and the Corps to voluntarily withdraw the proposed rule. In the absence of voluntary withdrawal, Farm Bureau is seeking the help of Congress to take political and legislative action to have EPA and the Corps "ditch the rule."
Farm Bureau recently launched the Ditch the Rule website at ditchtherule.fb.org. Focused on topics and analysis related to the Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corp of Engineers’ recent release of the “waters of the U.S.” proposed rule, the easy-to-navigate site includes several sections: Take Action, Go Social, Find Answers and Get Resources. Visitors may also sign up to learn more, comment on the proposed rule and send tweets using the hashtag #DitchTheRule.
Photo caption: Pennsylvania beef and grain farmer Tommy Nagle (pictured testifying and on his family farm) and farmers nationwide worry that EPA’s proposed rule could ultimately eliminate the use of accepted farm practices.