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EPA keeping WOTUS messy

EPA withdrawal of interpretive rule does not fix many issues seen within proposed waters rule expansion.

Political action on the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed waters of the U.S. rule keeps flowing, with the latest action bringing a partial victory in the withdrawal of the interpretive rule criticized by agricultural groups as well as a joint hearing Wednesday on the proposed rule questioning EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy for three and a half hours.

When the EPA first proposed its Waters of the U.S. rule last spring, its accompanying interpretive rule was meant to be a way to bring agricultural support along.

Or was it really a bait and switch, questioned Don Parrish, environmental specialist at the American Farm Bureau Federation? Maybe EPA’s desired result was creating two problematic raging rivers so as to generate the division over which to try and fight against first.

Congress successfully saved the raft from going over the falls for the interpretive rule which would have detrimental impacts on farmers conservation efforts on the ground, but now it’s a race against the close of the administration’s tenure and ahead of the 2016 presidential elections to see how far this concerning regulation will get pushed.   

Parrish said it’s likely the regulation will try to get finalized as far ahead of the 2016 elections as possible. “I know from a political standpoint, they have to try to ram it through regardless of people’s concerns so that it doesn’t get pulled into the campaign process going into 2016.”

The proposed rule comment period closed in November and EPA officials continue to say they hope to have a final rule out by this spring. Interesting that with over the million comments, EPA will try to rush out a final proposal in less than six months, but on the Renewable Fuels Standard levels the 2014 proposal has been stalled in EPA’s hands for nearly a year and a half.

Nearly two thirds of the nation’s states have called on EPA to either withdraw completely or revise significantly the proposed rule. Many of the top committee leaders criticized EPA and the Corps on the lack of state involvement in writing the proposal.

The hearing comes on the heels of the introduction of legislation (H.R. 594) to prohibit EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers from finalizing rule. It seems with Republicans controlling both chambers, bills likely could pass in the House and Senate, including some help from Democrats, to keep the rule from going into effect. The problem lies in getting a bill that’s veto proof, because President Barack Obama is unlikely going to sit back and let that happen.

EPA still has time to do the right thing. McCarthy recognized there’s “still work to do before we publish the final rule” but the process was meant to “tee up a range of ideas” that stakeholders could respond to within the rulemaking progress.

It’s important to stay engaged in the discussion. Continue to call on associations and state and local partners to evaluate impacts of the proposed and anticipated final rule.  

“Farmers have a lot of concerns about WOTUS,” said Maryland farmer Chip Bowling, president of the National Corn Growers Assn. “What we need is clarity. The interpretive rule actually made things less clear. We hope that the withdrawal of the interpretive rule will allow us to get to the true matter at hand: how the Clean Water Act is administered.”

Bowling has invited EPA officials to his farm and said it’s been a productive conversation in helping tell the true impacts of the rule. For him, regulations need to be clear and workable for farmers.

“We need to continue that dialogue, on WOTUS and beyond. We can all agree that clean water is important. Farmers are committed to improving water quality and conservation practices,” Bowling said.

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