The Rural Blog: Farmers fear EPA effort to clarify water law’s application could lead to broader regulation

May 9, 2011 | EPA

Posted to The Rural Blog on May 4 (original posting)

Some farm groups and lawmakers fear that the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed guidance to clarify enforcement of the Clean Water Act is too vague and could subject farmers to new regulations. "The guidance proposes a biological or chemical connection test on a case-by-case basis between the upstream water body and wetland and the downstream navigable water," reports Agri-Pulse, a Washington newsletter.

The guidance document applies to traditionally regulated waters, including wetlands adjacent to either navigable or interstate waters, but additional waters could fall under regulation "if a fact-specific analysis determines they have a ‘significant nexus’ to a traditional navigable water or interstate water," Agri-Pulse reports.

Don Parrish of the American Farm Bureau Federation told Agri-Pulse that more definition and clarity is needed to satisfy farmers. "This document gives absolutely no assurance to landowners that anything is outside of the scope" of regulation, he said, such as pesticide usage and normal farming practices. The regulatory process could also lead EPA and the Corps of Engineers, which issues water-pollution permits, to further narrow what is considered "normal farming practice," requiring farmers to get additional permits.

Environmental and wildlife groups applauded the move. Former Ducks Unlimited president John Tomke spoke at the EPA press conference about the guidance was released. "DU and several other wildlife and environmental groups plan to weigh in with more support for EPA during a press conference scheduled for Wednesday," Agri-Pulse reports. (Agri-Pulse is subscription-only, but offers a free, four-issue trial subscription.)

The rules "maintain exemptions for roadside ditches, stock ponds, tile lines and other agricultural structures," notes Philip Brasher of the Des Moines Register, but House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., contends they are a "foundation" for the government "to regulate essentially any body of water." [See the guest editorial by Rep. Frank Lucas in a recent issue of RCAP’s Rural Matters magazine, page 16.]