The Environmental Protection Agency strikes again.
This time it has created a new proposal to expand the definition of "waters of the United States" for all Clean Water Act programs. Administrator Gina McCarthy claims it is to protect our precious waters and natural resources, but anyone reading what the EPA proposes would have doubts about its intent.
Even with an open mind, giving the EPA the benefit of the doubt, it is difficult to read the proposed rule and not feel concerned maybe even outraged.
To be clear, we are all in support of protecting precious waters and natural resources. Farmers and ranchers are especially sensitive to this effort because they rely on them for their livelihoods. But, this proposed rule expands federal control of land and water resources across the nation and seemingly does so for the sake of more control.
It would defy the Supreme Court on this front, which has made clear there is a limit to federal jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act. It would trigger an onslaught of additional permitting and regulatory requirements to protect not our great natural resources, but rather our backyard ponds and agricultural ditches. These requirements would extend to every landowner, not just farmers and ranchers.
For example, the proposal establishes broader definitions of existing regulatory categories, such as tributaries, and regulates new areas that are not jurisdictional under current regulations, such as adjacent non-wetlands. Ponds would now be included in the definition of "tributary" and these vastly expanded tributaries would automatically fall under the jurisdiction of the EPA regardless of whether the pond is connected to navigable water, which was originally intended as the limit of federal authority.
For the first time ever, certain ditches would be defined as jurisdictional tributaries under all Clean Water Act programs.
What this means for farmers and ranchers is that their normal business activities for the production of food, such as applying pesticides and grazing cattle, would be subject to even more permitting requirements or faced with penalties.
The EPA likes to claim this proposed rule will provide regulatory certainty to agricultural producers, but the reality is farmers and ranchers will be hit with a greater regulatory load when they were once previously exempt. Traditional conservation guidelines, which were once voluntary, will now be mandatory or the farmer will be subject to fines and vulnerable to lawsuits.
This new reality would only encourage confusion and further distrust of the agency. It would leave a lot of discretion to federal agencies to make decisions and those decisions could be made in an arbitrary fashion.
Beyond the confusion, this scheme would negatively impact jobs and harm economic growth. It would subject more activities whether warranted or not to permitting requirements under Clean Water Act and leave rural constituents vulnerable to citizen lawsuits. In other words, this proposal translates into higher costs of production and greater regulatory burdens. The EPA has not adequately weighed these costs, nor has the agency accounted for the impact on state and federal resources for permitting, oversight, and enforcement.
Protecting our natural resources is a noble cause and one that the agricultural community stands solidly behind, but this proposal is an underhanded way to harm American agriculture and threaten America's food security.
Rep. Frank Lucas, R-3rd District, is Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee