Farm Bureau and big ag misrepresenting EPA water rule


This summer delivered many significant, round-numbered anniversaries. For example, June 6 was the 70th anniversary of D-Day, Aug. 1, the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I, Aug. 9, the 40th anniversary of the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon, and Aug. 12, the 200th anniversary of the British burning the U.S. Capitol.

Most are remembered because, in some manner, they mark the triumph of a new order, democracy, over old orders like tyranny and lawlessness. Some are remembered, Watergate, for example, to show democracy’s messiness and, subsequently, built-in resilience.

EPA water rule

An example of democracy’s messiness today is the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed Waters of the U.S. rule, or WOTUS.

Offered March 25 by EPA to address court-ordered changes in the decades-old Clean Water Act, WOTUS has become a leather-lunged political test for shouters, connivers and liars over what the proposed rules will or will not do on American farms and ranches.

The stark differences between what EPA proposed and what farm and ranch groups believe the proposals mean is seen on dueling websites (links to source materials are posted at developed by EPA and the American Farm Bureau Federation.

Farm Bureau response

AFBF’s WOTUS site, cleverly titled “,” is a hard pitch on what it thinks is at stake under the rule. Readers are urged to file a formal comment with EPA opposing the rule, “tweet” Congress to “ditch” it or join “the Farm Bureau family” to fight it.

In making its case, however, AFBF is stuck using its own interpretation — mostly in reply to its own questions — of what WOTUS might do rather than what EPA repeatedly has said it will do.

For example, AFBF claims the proposed rule “would expand (EPA’s) regulatory authority under the Clean Water Act” to “puddles, ponds, ditches, ephemerals … and isolated wetlands…”

That expanded authority, AFBF then contends, will give EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers “power to dictate land-use decisions and farming practices in or near” farm and ranches such as “weed control, fertilizer applications and any number of other common farm activities. …”

Wrong, wrong and wrong, says EPA on its WOTUS website (even more cleverly) titled “Ditch the Myth.”

The proposed rule, explains EPA, “actually reduces regulation of ditches,” “specifically excludes groundwater,” “preserves all historical exclusions for agriculture,” and “regulates the pollution and destruction of U.S. waters, not … land or land use.”

Fear continues

Nothing EPA has said or done — websites, press releases and more than 350 meetings with farm state politicians, farm and ranch group leaders and members — has allayed WOTUS fears with farm groups.

Those fears have been more amplified than addressed by many in Congress who view WOTUS as a political tool to use against the Obama Administration. Others see it as a crowbar for Republicans to pry control of the U.S. Senate from the now-majority Democrats.

However it’s seen or used, two things seem certain. First, an update to the court-clouded regulations now guiding the 1970s-era Clean Water Act is needed, regardless of what November’s election results show.

Sooner or later, new rules will be adopted.

Secondly, the more successful farm and ranch forces are in putting off that update the less favorable it will be because ag’s urban neighbors in places like Des Moines and Toledo — two cities in farm country that spent millions this year to fight water problems tied to many of today’s grain and livestock production practices — want new rules now.

Moreover, most want tougher rules than those proposed in WOTUS.

As such, 2014 can be remembered as the year farm and ranch groups used exaggeration and inaccurate “facts” to “ditch” reforms most Americans want, or it could be remembered as the year farmers and ranchers embraced their decisive role in shaping America’s clean water future. It’s your choice. Make it.

Then tell your neighbors because they’re waiting on you to do the right thing.


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Alan Guebert was raised on an 800-acre, 100-cow southern Illinois dairy farm. After graduation from the University of Illinois in 1980, he served as a writer and editor at Professional Farmers of America, Successful Farming magazine and Farm Journal magazine. His syndicated agricultural column, The Farm and Food File, began in June, 1993, and now appears weekly in more than 70 publications throughout the U.S. and Canada. He and spouse Catherine, a social worker, have two adult children.



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