U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt and U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler spoke out at a press conference Thursday at the Missouri State Fair against the “Waters of the United States” rule proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Army Corps of Engineers (Army Corps).
According to the EPA, the rule aims to clarify protection under the Clean Water Act for streams and wetlands that form the foundation of the nation’s water resources and the proposed rule will benefit businesses by increasing efficiency in determining coverage of the Clean Water Act.
Many Missouri agricultural organizations — the Missouri Farm Bureau, Missouri Corn and Soybean growers, the National Cattleman’s Beef Association (NCBA) and others — are opposed to the rule, citing unclear language that could allow federal control of every small tributary in the country including small irrigation ditches that run across farmland. They are calling the measure a “land grab” that dictates how Missouri farmers run their farms.
Blunt said when congress passed the Clean Water Act in the 1970s that gave the EPA authority over navigable waters, it did not give them the authority to regulate every “ditch in Missouri that runs down the side of the road.”
“That’s a term (navigable) that’s been used since 1899 and it means waters you can actually navigate on,” Blunt said. “That is not all the water of the United States or every drop of water that could somehow end up in a navigable waterway. This is an overreach that impacts every builder, county commissioner, city official and farming family and should not be allowed to stand.
“These are regulations we shouldn’t let stand. We need to look for every way we can to get the regulators under control.”
Hartzler also spoke out against the measure, calling it another “Mother, may I?” rule.
“If this goes through I think we will have to beg government and ask ‘Mother, may I?’ to plant a crop or to protect our crops or make any changes or build a terrace or build a pond,” she said. “‘Mother, can I do this? Can I not?’ That’s just wrong and I think it’s unconstitutional.”
She referred to the rule as a power grab by the EPA and said current state and local regulations are working.
“It also is a power grab to our states and local rights,” she said. “Traditionally jurisdiction over clean water has been the state’s jurisdiction. I see many of our state representatives here and they are doing a good job overseeing those things. We don’t need Washington D.C. to come into Missouri and take jurisdiction and rule over those things.”
Hartzler said she is currently sponsoring legislation in the house that will “undo this thing.”
The EPA has stated about 60 percent of stream miles in the U.S. only flow seasonally or after rain, but have a considerable impact on the downstream waters and approximately 117 million people – one in three Americans – get drinking water from public systems that rely in part on these streams. These are important waterways for which EPA and the Army Corps is clarifying protection according to the EPA.
Specifically, the proposed rule clarifies that under the Clean Water Act and based on the science:
• Most seasonal and rain-dependent streams are protected.
• Wetlands near rivers and streams are protected.
• Other types of waters may have more uncertain connections with downstream water and protection will be evaluated through a case specific analysis of whether the connection is or is not significant. However, to provide more certainty, the proposal requests comment on options protecting similarly situated waters in certain geographic areas or adding to the categories of waters protected without case specific analysis.
The EPA also stated the proposed rule preserves the Clean Water Act exemptions and exclusions for agriculture. Additionally, EPA and the Army Corps have coordinated with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to develop an interpretive rule to ensure that 56 specific conservation practices that protect or improve water quality will not be subject to Section 404 dredged or fill permitting requirements. Any agriculture activity that does not result in the discharge of a pollutant to waters of the U.S. still does not require a permit.
However, the NCBA says the rule will “throw 80,000 Missouri Stream miles under the regulatory bus and the proposal goes as far to include ditches in the definition of a tributary.” Ashley McDonald, NCBA environmental counsel, said any activity near a jurisdictional ditch will now require a federal permit and as a result, many farmers and ranchers will need to acquire permits for routine land use activities.
“Instead of providing the clarity that so many people have asked for, the agencies have instead proposed a rule that muddies the water even further through their clever use of ambiguous and vague terminology,” she said. “Their actions have only created more questions for farmers and ranchers. The agency’s proposed rule adds more layers of government bureaucracy and red tape and amounts to nothing more than a pervasive invasion of private property rights.”
A public comment period is currently open until Oct. 20. For information on how to leave the EPA a comment on the proposed rule visit epa.gov.