Comments show opposition to EPA’s proposed ‘Waters’ rule

WASHINGTON—By the time the comment period for the proposed Waters of the U.S. rule ended in November 2014, Americans had shared more than 1 million comments with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Not all of those were substantive, and not all of them supported the EPA’s proposal. Now the American Farm Bureau Federation is concerned that the EPA will advance the new rule regardless of citizens’ concerns.

Farm Bureau and other agricultural and business organizations have expressed concerns about the rule, which was issued last year by the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers. Opponents of the rule assert that the EPA and the Corps are attempting to regulate virtually all water in the United States, in defiance of Congress and two U.S. Supreme Court decisions.

Historically, normal farming and conservation activities such as fencing, brush management and pruning shrubs and trees have been exempted by Congress from permitting under the Clean Water Act. The “Waters” rule would require farmers and ranchers to meet otherwise voluntary standards for those activities established by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service or else face Clean Water Act liability. In linking the normal farming exemptions to NRCS standards, the rule would make voluntary conservation standards subject to EPA enforcement.

Comments shared via Twitter such as “I like Clean Water” were counted by the EPA as substantive comments supporting the new rule. AFBF Regulatory Specialist Don Parrish said Americans made more than 20,000 unique, substantive comments last summer and fall.

“Technically that’s only about 2 percent of that 1 million. But of those people who actually read the proposal, EPA’s own contractors said 68 percent of them opposed the regulation. That’s unprecedented. That’s really amazing, because when people bothered to look at the details of the proposal, they overwhelmingly opposed it.”

Parish said the EPA has posted about 20,000 comments online, but they are not all of the substantive ones.

“They haven’t even posted for the public to be able to review and or check the agency’s math in terms of what people have actually said about this proposal,” he said. “All indication is that the administration and EPA intend to ram this proposal through, regardless of the important comments that were made on it, and try to do so as quickly as possible.”

He said farmers and other Americans should hold the EPA accountable.

“They are doing everything they can to expand their jurisdictional reach, and they’re doing it by skewing the way in which comments come in on this proposal. EPA has to look at all the comments. Believe me, I understand that, but the ones that really make a difference are the ones where people sat down, tried to look at what was in this proposal and tried to offer important criticisms and concerns about what the agency has proposed.”

In September 2014 the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 5078, which would prohibit the EPA and the Corps from implementing a rule that broadens the scope of the Clean Water Act.

Media: Contact Kari Barbic, AFBF communications, at 202-406-3673.

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