More than 70 agricultural organizations are calling on the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to slow their push to redefine “waters of the United States” in the Clean Water Act.
The national and state organizations sent a letter to the agencies May 30 requesting extensions of the comment period on the proposed changes in Clean Water Act regulation and accompanying ag exemption rule related to those changes.
The proposed rule change expands the definition of “waters of the United States” to include wetlands and waterways that flow only seasonally or after a heavy rain that have a “significant nexus” to traditional navigable waters.
The groups pointed out that an EPA study of the connection between intermittent waters and wetlands to larger bodies of water has yet to be completed. They also pointed out that the timing of the comment period coincides with one of the busiest times of the year for farmers.“A meaningful response to EPA’s proposed regulation will require a substantial amount of farmer and rancher outreach and development of facts and data on its impact, as well as a complex review and analysis of the relevant civil and criminal legal standards and case law currently in place and in each of the states where our members have farms,” the letter stated.
The groups also raised concerns that EPA has contradicted its own statements on agricultural exemptions and whether common features of agricultural fields would fall under Clean Water Act jurisdiction.
National Milk Producers Federation also sent a letter to the two agencies requesting extensions of the comment period for expanding jurisdictional waters, citing the same reasons.
In addition, National Milk pointed out the draft proposal leaves key concepts unclear, undefined or subject to agency discretion regarding what would be considered waters of the U.S.
The proposed rule asserts Clean Water Act jurisdiction over waters or wetlands using terms such as “neighboring, “ riparian area,” “tributary,” and “significant nexus,” which are as clear as muddy water, National Milk stated.
Additionally, the proposed rules relies heavily on “best professional judgment” in application of these and other terms, the letter stated.
“This will only exacerbate the lack of certainty for farmers,” and will require more time to evaluate definitional alternatives and assure greater regulatory certainty to producers, the letter stated.
The groups are asking for an additional 90 days beyond the current July 21 comment deadline on the proposed changes to waters of the U.S. or 90 days beyond EPA’s release of its connectivity report.
The group of 72 organizations is also asking that the comment deadline (June 6) for the ag exemption rule coincide with the closing date for the proposed changes but to at least be extended 45 days.