The interpretive rule governing approved conservation practices as offered with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. EPA Waters of the U.S. proposal would alter farmer-government interaction, Republican members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture said last week.
The group said immediate withdrawal of the Waters of the U.S. interpretive rule is necessary.
The rule outlines 56 conservation activities that would be covered under a "normal farming and ranching" Clean Water Act exemption. Previously, more than 160 conservation practices qualified for the normal farming and ranching exemption, the group said.
"We have heard from farmers, ranchers, and other rural constituents about the Interpretive Rule and are deeply concerned it has created great confusion about what agriculture activities are exempt from regulation under the Clean Water Act," the senators wrote in their letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, Army Secretary John McHugh and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
The senators said members of the farming and ranching industry had little opportunity to provide input on the rule. The proposal also could "fundamentally change the relationship between the Department of Agriculture and farm families," the letter said.
"This unique relationship is built on voluntary conservation programs and a mutual commitment to protecting natural resources and keeping land in agriculture. Bringing USDA into the Clean Water Act permitting process would profoundly shift the nature of this successful approach by dismantling a longstanding partnership between the Federal government and agriculture community," the senators wrote.
A similar argument was suggested by a Pennsylvania cattle rancher in a House Ag subcommittee meeting in June.
"As a farmer, my willingness to implement voluntary conservation practices has been greatly diminished, despite my desire to improve and protect the waters on my farm," rancher Andy Fabin said in his opening commentary. "I’m not alone in my thinking, which means that if this Interpretive Rule remains in place, farmers and ranchers across the country will slow their adoption of conservation practices."
Farm groups also have pushed for withdrawal of the rule, citing concerns similar to those of the Republican Senate Ag Committee members.
Though the interpretive rule took effect immediately, stakeholders have until Nov. 14 to comment on the broader Waters of the U.S. proposal.