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Agriculture Today

Ag industry unites to oppose Clean Water Act changes

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Wilson County News
May 24, 2011 | 3,132 views | Post a comment

Members of the ag industry, known as stewards of the land, have united to oppose proposed changes to the Clean Water Act put forth by the Obama Administration. According to the “Draft Guidance of Identifying Waters Protected by the Clean Water Act,” an exemption for agriculture remains in place, but national ag organizations are not taking any chances.

One group, the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association (USCA), made its concerns known in a May 10 press release, after the Federal Register announced comments are being accepted. “The guidelines expand coverage of the Clean Water Act to bodies of water that have a ‘significant nexus’ to traditional navigable waters or interstate waters already covered by the law,” the press release states. “These include tributaries to traditional navigable waters or interstate waters; wetlands that are adjacent to such jurisdictional tributaries; and ... ‘other waters’ that are physically separated from tributaries or waterways subject to the law.”

A second concern flagged by the group is the Obama administration’s plan to engage “with state, local, and tribal governments as well as the private sector, to enhance water quality. This will encompass water quality standards and maximum daily load programs governing discharges into water bodies, likely expanding the application of the law’s water-related permitting requirements.”

USCA President Jon Wooster said, “protecting the health of our waterways is important to us, farmers and ranchers included. However, these new guidelines are an onerous approach to that goal and they underscore the federal government’s escalating overreach into our daily operations.”

The National Corn Growers Association echoed the USCA sentiments in an April 28 press release, after the proposed guidelines were first released. “The proposed guidelines are worrisome to our farmers as federal agencies could have the authority to regulate ditches and ponds,” association President Bart Schott said. “The announced guidelines have the potential to expand federal jurisdiction in a way that could lead to additional permitting requirements and make farmers more vulnerable to citizen action lawsuits.”

While the corn growers state the “guidance maintains existing exemptions for normal farming and ranching activities,” the group is concerned about the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) “authority over isolated waters, including ditches and farm ponds.”

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), in an April 28 press release, challenges the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ attempt to “clarify” regulatory jurisdiction over wetlands. “If the guidance is finalized, the only thing cattle producers can be clear and certain about is that any stream, ditch, and pond on their land could easily be subject to regulation.”

“This is a direct hit on the private property rights of farmers and ranchers across this country,” said NCBA Deputy Environmental Counsel Ashley Lyon. “We will fight hard against this administration’s continuing efforts to curtail the private property rights of farmers and ranchers by regulating them to the brink of bankruptcy.”

The 60-day period for public comments is under way. The deadline for comment submissions is Friday, July 1.

See page 1A for more on this issue.

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