By TIM HEARDEN
A California congressman wants to cut off funding to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other federal offices that require costly permits for routine work on farms and ranches and in forests.
Freshman Rep. Doug LaMalfa, a Republican on the agriculture committee, slipped an amendment into an energy and water spending bill that would deny money for what he considers efforts by agencies to circumvent agricultural exemptions in the Clean Water Act.
The act enables daily agricultural work such as plowing, harvesting and maintaining drainage ditches. However, federal agencies such as the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have interpreted other portions of the act to require cumbersome permits that can cost thousands of dollars to obtain, the congressman said.
"As a result, we have a situation where Congress clearly provided a regulatory exemption in one paragraph of the Clean Water Act only to have the Corps and EPA take it away through a creative interpretation of the next paragraph," LaMalfa said on the House floor. "This amendment ... will allow the permitting exemptions to stand on their own merits without the Corps and EPA negating their use through clever legal interpretations."
The House approved LaMalfa's amendment to its water and energy appropriations bill by a voice vote on July 10. Specifically, he proposed that no funds from the spending bill be used to regulate activities identified in a list of agricultural exemptions under the Clean Water Act that Congress approved in 1977.
The bill moves to the Senate, then a House-Senate conference committee would negotiate on any differences between the two versions, LaMalfa spokesman Kevin Eastman said.
Officials from the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers said the agencies don't comment on pending legislation.
LaMalfa brought the amendment after getting complaints about agencies from constituents, Eastman said. In one instance, a Northern California family farm's plan to switch from ditches to pipe irrigation to save water was blocked when the Army Corps claimed the work would affect the Sacramento River about six miles away.
The Corps' scrutiny turned a one-day, $2,500 project into a multiyear legal fight that has cost the family more than $100,000, LaMalfa told his colleagues. LaMalfa's office would not name the farm or its location for fear of agency retaliation against the family, Eastman said.
"That was maybe the most ridiculous example we've heard of, but we've heard quite a few," he said. "There's a couple dozen that we know of. I would say it's quite common ... If you're located in the northern Sacramento Valley, your property and any waterways on it drain to the Sacramento River at some point, and the Army Corps of Engineers believes it has authority over anything that drains to the Sacramento River."
LaMalfa said his amendment isn't meant to limit regulation of wetlands or waterways.
"As a rancher myself with wetlands, ducks and other wildlife on my land, I know full well the importance and value of reasonable protections for our natural resources," he said. "Today farms in California and elsewhere are being targeted for simply changing crops or irrigation methods. They are doing their best to follow every law, the spirit of the law, but are being targeted for something Congress explicitly exempted."
Rep. Doug LaMalfa: http://lamalfa.house.gov
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: http://www.epa.gov
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers: http://www.usace.army.mil