New federal rules on stream protection draw reactions from Rep. Ken Buck and Rocky Mountain Farmers Union
New federal rules designed to protect small streams, tributaries and wetlands — and the drinking water of 117 million Americans — are being criticized by Republicans and farm groups as going too far.
The White House says the rules, issued May 27, will provide much-needed clarity for landowners about which waterways must be protected against pollution and development. But House Speaker John Boehner declared they will send “landowners, small businesses, farmers, and manufacturers on the road to a regulatory and economic hell,” the Associated Press reported.
Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., released a similar statement Wednesday, calling the rules widely opposed and terribly harmful to the economy of rural Colorado.
However, northern Colorado farmer and president of the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union Kent Peppler called the rules common sense in a news release the same day.
The American Farm Bureau Federation said it would be undertaking a thorough analysis of the rules to determine if the Environmental Protection Agency had adequately taken in consideration the comments submitted by farmers and ranchers during the comment period.
“Based on EPA’s aggressive advocacy campaign in support of its original proposed rule—and the agency’s numerous misstatements about the content and impact of that proposal—we find little comfort in the agency’s assurances that our concerns have been addressed in any meaningful way,” said AFBF President Bob Stallman.
The rules, issued by the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, aim to clarify which smaller waterways fall under federal protection after two Supreme Court rulings left the reach of the Clean Water Act uncertain. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said the waters affected would be only those with a “direct and significant” connection to larger bodies of water downstream that are already protected, the Associated Press reported.
“I’m furious that the President has once again taken unilateral action that is widely opposed by business and agriculture alike,” Buck said in his statement. “He is out of control, and I will do everything in my power to rein him in.
“WOTUS is terribly harmful for the economy of rural Colorado and a disaster for small business across America.”
Peppler, however, had a different reaction.
“Clean water is essential for farmers and ranchers, and for the production of healthful food,” he said in a news release. “The Administration’s new Clean Water Rule again protects upstream water sources and downstream producers, and ensures reliable, clean water for our farms and families. This rule also continues existing exemptions for day-to-day farm operations. This is common-sense rulemaking.”
The Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006 left 60 percent of the nation’s streams and millions of acres of wetlands without clear federal protection, according to EPA, causing confusion for landowners and government officials.
The new rules would kick in and force a permitting process only if a business or landowner took steps to pollute or destroy covered waters.
EPA says the rules will help landowners understand exactly which waters fall under the Clean Water Act. For example, a tributary must show evidence of flowing water to be protected — such as a bank or a high water mark.
President Barack Obama said that while providing that clarity for business and industry, the rules “will ensure polluters who knowingly threaten our waters can be held accountable.”
Rocky Mountain Farmers Union members worked with EPA during the comment period. Farmers and ranchers from Colorado, New Mexico, and Wyoming voiced their concerns and recommendations on how the rules might help, or hurt, farmers and ranchers, according to the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union.
“We were at the table during this process,” Peppler said in the new release. “Others who chose to fight EPA at every step failed to address the much bigger issue: EPA has responsibility to protect America’s water supply from being harmed by the irresponsible actions of landowners and corporations.
“While the new rule is not perfect, it will restore an overdue measure of certainty for farmers and ranchers,” he said.
There is deep opposition from the Republican-led Congress and from farmers and other landowners concerned that every stream, ditch and puddle on their private land could now be subject to federal oversight. The House voted to block the regulations earlier this month, and a Senate panel is planning to consider a similar bill this summer.
EPA’s McCarthy has acknowledged the proposed regulations last year were confusing, and she said the final rules were written to be clearer. She said the regulations don’t create any new permitting requirements for agriculture and even add new exemptions for artificial lakes and ponds and water-filled depressions from construction, among other features, the Associated Press reported.
These efforts were “to make clear our goal is to stay out of agriculture’s way,” McCarthy and Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy said in a blog on the EPA website.
The agriculture industry has been particularly concerned about the regulation of drainage ditches on farmland. The EPA and Army Corps said the only ditches that would be covered under the rule are those that look, act and function like tributaries and carry pollution downstream.
Another farm group, the National Farmers Union, said it still has some concerns about the impact on farmers but is pleased with the increased clarity on ditches, “removing a gray area that has caused farmers and ranchers an incredible amount of concern.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story. ❖