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Published July 21, 2014, 10:31 AM

Farmers, conservationists split on Water of the U.S. rule

Conservation groups are mounting a campaign in defense of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Waters of the U.S. rule. Meanwhile, farm leaders and Republicans in the House move bills to try to stop EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from proceeding with the rule on the grounds that it expands jurisdiction into bodies of water on farms.

By: Jerry Hagstrom, Agweek

WASHINGTON — Conservation groups are mounting a campaign in defense of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Waters of the U.S. rule. Meanwhile, farm leaders and Republicans in the House move bills to try to stop EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from proceeding with the rule on the grounds that it expands jurisdiction into bodies of water on farms.

On July 15, hunting, fishing and conservation organizations held a briefing on Capitol Hill to urge Congress not to interfere with the public comment process on WOTUS. They noted sportsmen generate $200 billion in total economic activity each year, support 1.5 million jobs and rely on clean water to pursue their sporting traditions.

The groups later released their comments in a joint statement.

Jimmy Hague, director of the Center for Water Resources, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, called the Clean Water Act “one of our most successful environmental statutes.

“It has transformed rivers that once literally caught on fire into productive fisheries and vibrant aquatic ecosystems,” Hague added. “And it slowed a rate of wetland loss that exceeded a half-million acres per year when the act was passed.

“Efforts to stop the rulemaking before the public has had a chance to review and comment on the proposal are misguided,” he said. “Now is the time to improve the proposed rule through broad public involvement, not to lock in the current confusion indefinitely.”

Bob Rees, executive director of the Association of Northwest Steelheaders, a conservation and fishing advocacy group in the Pacific Northwest, said the act is important to anglers across this country.

“Whether you fish for trout in North Carolina, bass in Missouri or salmon in Oregon, this is an issue that directly impacts us all,” Rees said. “Right now our members of Congress are hearing a lot of spin from those who benefit from dirtying our streams and destroying our wetlands. Everyone who wants to keep our waters safe for fish, wildlife and people need to pick up the phone, call their senator and take a stand for clean water.”

Separately, Adam Kolton, executive director of the National Wildlife Federation’s National Advocacy Center, said “Clean water and healthy rivers are fundamental to the American way of life.

“Poll after poll shows that overwhelming majorities of Americans want the government to protect our drinking water supplies,” Kolton said. “In most voters’ eyes, clean water is right up there with motherhood and apple pie.”

The Natural Resources Defense Council invited the American Farm Bureau Federation to participate in a debate on the issue, but the Farm Bureau declined.

In a recent letter to Farm Bureau President Robert Stallman, NRDC Senior Attorney Jon Devine said the Farm Bureau’s repeated “inflammatory” and “outlandish” allegations aimed at frightening farmers have obscured debate over the new rule.

But in a response to NRDC, Farm Bureau senior counsel Danielle Quist declined the debate challenge, saying it would only discuss the issue with “the [federal] agencies, the public and our elected officials.”

Replying to Quist, NRDC’s Devine in a letter accused the Farm Bureau of flooding legislators “with misleading material and then refusing opportunities to have a genuine exchange of ideas.”

“Our issue is with the agency that wrote the rule, not a surrogate that cannot decide the outcome of this very serious matter,” said Will Rodger, a Farm Bureau spokesman. Rodger noted that Farm Bureau would file comprehensive comments on the rule.

The House versions of the fiscal year 2015 Interior and EPA appropriation bill and the Energy and Army Corps of Engineers bill contain riders to stop EPA and the Corps from implementing the proposal. The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has approved legislation introduced by Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Fla., that would block an expansion of the number of streams and wetlands regulated under the Clean Water Act.

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