Friday, September 19, 2014

SCHLAGECK: EPA rule could shut down agriculture

By JOHN SCHLAGECK, Kansas Farm Bureau | 5/7/2014

A proposed rule that would expand the regulatory authority of the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers could bring farming and ranching to a halt. Ordinary field work and everyday chores like moving cattle across a wet pasture, planting crops and even harvest may one day require a federal permit.

The EPA published its new proposal in the Federal Register March 25. The Environmental Protection Agency contends its new rule clarifies the scope of the Clean Water Act. In reality it provides more confusion and less clarity for farm and ranch families and could classify most water and some dry land as waters of the United States.

A proposed rule that would expand the regulatory authority of the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers could bring farming and ranching to a halt. Ordinary field work and everyday chores like moving cattle across a wet pasture, planting crops and even harvest may one day require a federal permit.

The EPA published its new proposal in the Federal Register March 25. The Environmental Protection Agency contends its new rule clarifies the scope of the Clean Water Act. In reality it provides more confusion and less clarity for farm and ranch families and could classify most water and some dry land as waters of the United States.

Clean water is important to all of us, but this issue is not about water quality — it’s about federal agencies attempting to gain regulatory control over land use by using the claim of clean water.

Throughout this republic’s history, Congress, not federal agencies, has written the laws of the land. Two Supreme Court rulings have affirmed the federal government is limited to regulating navigable waters. The EPA’s recent proposal sends conflicting messages and would extend the agency’s reach.

Farmers and ranchers are straight-forward people who believe words mean something. Agricultural producers believe the authors (Congress) of the Clean Water Act included the term navigable for a reason.

Is a small ditch navigable?

Is a stock pond navigable?

Ever see any maritime barges trying to navigate a southwestern Kansas gully during a toad strangler?

Because a farmer’s field, a homeowner’s lawn or a playground collects water after a rain does not mean they should be regulated under waters of the United States. The new regulatory proposals could do exactly that.

What about the EPA claims that agricultural exemptions currently provided under the federal Clean Water Act should relieve farmer and ranchers of any need to worry about the proposed rule?

Exemptions provided in the act are mostly limited to plowing and earth moving activities. They do not apply to farm and ranch tasks like building a fence across a ditch, applying fertilizers or other forms of pest and weed control.

If the EPA’s proposed rule becomes law, many farming practices would require government approval through a complex process of federal permitting.

The EPA’s so-called exemptions will not protect farmers and ranchers from the proposed waters rule. If farmlands are regulated as waters, farming and ranching will be difficult, if not impossible.

Contact the EPA and Corps before July 21 and let them know your opinion on this critical issue. Go to www.kfb.org for additional information.

John Schlageck is a Farm Bureau commentator, specializing in agriculture and rural Kansas.

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