WASHINGTON — Ohio farmers noted their displeasure with an ongoing effort by the U.S. EPA to expand the definition of “Waters of the United States,” during the first day of the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation’s county presidents’ trip to the capital, March 18.
Farmers have scores of ditches and waterways that run across their fields and woodlands, and they worry that proposals for new regulations could expand federal regulations onto their property.
The regulations fall under the Clean Water Act and have typically been limited to “navigable waters.”
According to Farm Bureau, the proposed rules, which were first published in April of 2014, would expand regulatory authority beyond “navigable waters” so that “virtually all waters” would come under federal regulation. This would include ditches — some of which are dry part of the year.
The EPA disputes these claims and insists the regulations would not adversely affect farmers, nor expand regulations over farmers’ ditches.
Gina McCarthy, EPA administrator, has worked on several revisions to the rules, including clarifications over the facts, and what the EPA intends to do.
The agency insists that the new rules would actually benefit farmers, because the language helps clarify which waters are covered under the Clean Water Act, while protecting certain farming practices and methods for draining water from fields.
But farmers and lawmakers with farm backgrounds aren’t buying it.
U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said the problem is the EPA did not include agriculture experts and ag opinions in their science-seeking effort to form the proposal.
“The EPA is out of control. They are not listening to the people they should be listening to,” Peterson said, during a farm forum hosted by U.S. Representatives John Boehner and Bob Gibbs, both Ohio Republicans.
Peterson said McCarthy had good intentions with the rules, but that she and her team of scientists don’t understand what farmers have to deal with, in regard to water drainage and ditches.
“She (McCarthy) thinks she’s helping you … The problem is she has no idea what the average farmer has to deal with,” he said.
McCarthy responded to farmers’ concerns during a March 16 address of the National Farmers Union, in which she apologized for not being more clear about what the rule seeks to do.
“I really wish we had done a better job of rolling out the clean water rule,” she said.
She told the NFU that the agency’s definition of tributaries in the initial draft was far too vague and that it would be corrected.
“We are considering appropriate ways to narrow that definition,” she said.
Gibbs, who is a past Ohio Farm Bureau president and swine producer, said he’s concerned the rule leads to an “erosion of private property rights.”
He also spoke critically of the president’s use of executive orders and memorandums.
Lawmakers also talked about another water-related issue — the need to expand and open trade so more products can be shipped overseas.
House Speaker John Boehner said Congress and the Obama Administration need to continue their work on promoting Trade Promotion Authority — which would allow both parties to open new trade agreements with other countries.
The United States is currently working on specific trade agreements, like the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the European Union.
U.S. agricultural exports topped $152 billion in 2014 and could grow exponentially with new agreements.
But the president needs more authority for negotiating, Boehner said.
“We’re never going to get to the bottom line unless our allies see that the president has the authority to negotiate,” he said.
Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said about 96 percent of the world’s consumers live outside the United States — another reason trade and exports are so important. He spoke favorably of Trade Promotion Authority, and the nation’s opportunity to engage world markets.
“There’s kind of a race around the world on who writes the rules of the global economy and who writes the rules of the global economy in agriculture,” he said, adding that the United States should “be the ones writing the rules.”
The Farm Bureau trip continues through March 20, with additional lawmakers, including Ohio’s U.S. Senators — Republican Rob Portman, and Democrat Sherrod Brown.
Members are making up for a difficult visit to the Capital last year, when heavy snow cancelled flights and Hill visits, resulting in a much shorter trip.
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