McCarthy addresses ‘misinformation’ about Waters of the US ruleWASHINGTON — U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy was in Missouri last week to counter what she called “myths” about the agency’s proposed Waters of the U.S. rule that have developed among farmers, ranchers and agribusiness leaders.
By: Alex Gangitano and Jerry Hagstrom , Agweek
WASHINGTON — U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy was in Missouri last week to counter what she called “myths” about the agency’s proposed Waters of the U.S. rule that have developed among farmers, ranchers and agribusiness leaders.
Farm groups have filed comments urging the EPA to abandon its Waters of the U.S. rule and members of Congress have introduced legislation to achieve the same goal, even though EPA is under pressure from the Supreme Court to provide more scientific clarity on the waters it regulates under the Clean Water Act.
“There are some legitimate concerns out there, but we’re hearing some concerns that are just ludicrous,” McCarthy said July 8. “I want to dismiss some of the myths about our proposal, so we can all get to the serious conversation that we need to have.
“Some say EPA will regulate small, unconnected waters ... including puddles on lawns, driveways and playgrounds,” she continued. “That’s just silly. This proposal is all about protecting waters that science tells us have a significant impact to downstream water quality. No more, no less.
“Some say we’re regulating groundwater. Again, not true. Our proposal is clear: It does not regulate groundwater. Tile drainage systems don’t require a permit.”
And finally, she added, “Some say that our proposal means you need a permit to walk cattle across a stream. That’s not true. If cattle cross a wet field or stream, that’s a ‘normal farming practice.’ All normal farming practices are exempt, period. We don’t shrink current exemptions — we expand them.”
The proposed rule clarifies and protects the country’s waters under the Clean Water Act. The protected water bodies supply drinking water to one in three Americans, she said.
“We have to understand how we can protect clean water and make sure we have a strong farm economy, and how they can go hand and hand,” McCarthy said.
She said the EPA is not overreaching, expanding its jurisdiction or requiring more permits.
“This is all about the Supreme Court telling us that we had to make sure we refine a rule that would be based on science moving forward,” she said. “I think we have done a really good job working with our scientists to identify the waters that are important in wetlands.”
One of the concerns McCarthy said she considers the most legitimate is that the “interpretative rule” accompanying WOTUS puts the Agriculture Department’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in charge of regulating farming practices, such as cutting hay. She said every exemption that was in the prior rule remains, and that the rule “is a nimble and flexible way to identify 56 [practices] out of the gate.”
McCarthy said she had been surprised that the interpretive rule had been interpreted as “narrowing” what farmers can do, when the agency intended it as a way to point out practices that EPA recognizes as helping with conservation.
“Let me be clear: those practices, along with countless others, are normal farm practices — they do not require a permit,” McCarthy said. “The bottom line is that, if you weren’t supposed to get a permit before, you don’t need to get one now. Period.”
McCarthy said she does not think farmers or ranchers will disagree with the intent of the rule, “only the form it took.”
“The voices of those who really value this rule and understand we need to roll up our sleeves to make sure the final is something we can be proud of, those are the voices I want to raise up,” McCarthy said.