The Pennsylvania Farm Bureau (PFB) voiced its opposition to a recently proposed rule jointly issued by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Army Corps of Engineers that attempts to expand federal regulation of land areas as "waters of the U.S." during a hearing before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure in Altoona.
Speaking on behalf of the PFB, Cambria County Farm Bureau President Tommy Nagle testified that farmers are concerned about the possible consequences of the proposal on farms and the future viability of family businesses, especially when you consider that land features identified in the proposal are found extensively on farms all across the nation.
"What if the ultimate effect of this rule prevents farmers from passing their operations on to their children, or prevents young people--like me--from becoming farmers?" asked Nagle.
The farm bureau maintains that Congress clearly intended regulations under the Clean Water Act to focus on navigable waters, not ponds, ditches or puddles that occur on land during a heavy rainstorm. In addition, two Supreme Court rulings have affirmed that the federal government is limited to regulating "navigable" waters.
"Those of us in agriculture believe that the authors of the Clean Water Act included the term 'navigable' for a reason," said Nagle, who, with his wife Tracy, raises a herd of beef cattle and grows corn, soybeans and other grains on 775 acres near Saint Augustine in Clearfield Township.
The farm bureau notes that the 370 pages of regulatory language effectively erase current limitations on EPA and Army Corps authority. The proposed rule is supposed to be a clarification, but it seems to only provide more confusion and less clarity for farm families whose land will be judged by these agencies. "If I guess wrong on their judgment, I could face fines of up to $37,500 per day. If they guess wrong, I have to go to court to correct it. That's a scary thought," added Nagle.
The PFB is also questioning the validity of EPA claims that agricultural exemptions currently provided under the federal Clean Water Act should relieve farmers of any need to worry about the proposed rule. Exemptions provided in the act are mostly limited to plowing and earthmoving activities and do not apply to the use of fertilizers or similar farm inputs on farm fields. Many practices in fields could require government approval through a complex process of federal permitting, if the proposed rule becomes final.
The farm bureau is asking the EPA and the Corps to extend the comment period from 90 days to 180 days in order to provide farmers, who are actively engaged in planting their crops, to fully review how the proposed changes will impact their businesses and give them time to provide feedback.
Additionally, the farm bureau is calling on the EPA and the Corps to voluntarily withdraw the proposed rule. In the absence of voluntary withdrawal, the farm bureau is seeking the help of Congress to take political and legislative action to have the EPA and the Corps "ditch the rule."