Thursday, July 10, 2014

EPA chief reaches out to farmers on muddled rule proposal

The Obama administration's attempt to assuage farmers' and ranchers' fears about a major Clean Water Act proposal has drawn flak from all corners, forcing the U.S. EPA administrator herself to concede yesterday that there are "legitimate concerns" with the effort. At issue is the interpretive rule for agriculture that the Obama administration released in March in tandem with a major proposal to increase the number of streams and wetlands that receive automatic Clean Water Act protection following years of regulatory uncertainty. Administrator Gina McCarthy said on a call with reporters yesterday that the interpretive rule was intended to clarify which farming practices fall under the 1972 water law's exemptions for normal farming practices "so that there's no need for us to have ongoing dialogue about what's normal and what isn't." But a list of 56 specific conservation practices included in the interpretive rule has sparked much confusion and anger on all sides. The list identifies conservation practices that would be exempt if executed to the standards set by the Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). On the list are practices that currently don't require permits as well as those that do. The list has farmers and others wondering whether Clean Water Act exemptions for normal farming practices are being narrowed. Does it mean, they ask, that EPA permits will be required for some projects -- building fences, for example -- if they aren't done to the NRCS standard? Some groups contend that the requirement that projects meet NRCS standards would place the USDA agency in a new, regulatory role. That, they say, would fundamentally change the agency's relationship with farmers and ranchers...more

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