If the EPA’s proposed rule to redefine waters of the United States becomes law, farming and ranching as we know it today may end.
“This is one of the most egregious oversteps of Congressional intent that has happened in modern times,” says Ryan Flickner, Kansas Farm Bureau public policy senior director. “Certainly since the Clean Water Act of 1972.”
Under the proposed rule, the Environmental Protection Agency intends to wield much more authority than Congress wrote into this law.
EPA published its proposal in the Federal Register April 21. It contends the new rule clarifies the scope of the Clean Water Act. In reality it provides more confusion and less clarity for farm and ranch families and could classify most water and some land features as waters of the United States.
Ordinary field work and everyday chores like moving cattle across a wet pasture, planting crops and even harvest may one day require a federal permit if this proposal becomes final.
Clean water is important to all of us, but this issue is not about water quality – it’s about federal agencies attempting to gain regulatory control over land use.
Throughout this republic’s history, Congress, not federal agencies, has written the laws of the land. Two Supreme Court rulings have affirmed the federal government is limited to regulating navigable waters. EPA’s recent proposal sends conflicting messages and would extend the agency’s reach.
Also at stake here are the roles of state and federal government, Flickner says – where that line is drawn and where it may be crossed.
Congress initially said the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers could only regulate “navigable” waters.
Farmers and ranchers are straight-forward people who believe words mean something. Agricultural producers believe the authors (Congress) of the Clean Water Act included the term navigable for a reason.
Is a small ditch navigable?
Is a stock pond navigable?
Ever see any maritime barges trying to navigate a southwestern Kansas gully during a cloud burst?
Because a farmer’s field, a homeowner’s lawn, a golf course or a playground collects water after a rain does not mean they should be regulated under waters of the United States. The new regulatory proposals could do exactly that.
What about the EPA claims that agricultural exemptions currently provided under the federal Clean Water Act should relieve farmer and ranchers of any need to worry about the proposed rule?
Exemptions provided in the act are mostly limited to plowing and earth moving activities. They do not apply to farm and ranch tasks like building a fence across a ditch, applying fertilizers or other forms of pest and weed control. Nor do they offer protection from land that has entered agricultural production since the 1970s.
If EPA’s proposed rule becomes law, many farming practices would require government approval through a complex process of federal permitting.
EPA’s so-called exemptions will not protect farmers and ranchers from the proposed waters rule. If farmlands are regulated as waters, farming and ranching will be difficult, if not impossible.
Public comment will be accepted until Oct. 20. Contact the EPA and Corps and let them know your opinion on this critical issue.
“Enough is enough,” Flickner says. “Kansas farmers and ranchers have worked with our state agencies including the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Kansas Department of Agriculture and our elected officials. Let’s continue to work with these people who are more knowledgeable about our state.”
John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. Born and raised on a diversified farm in northwestern Kansas, his writing reflects a lifetime of experience, knowledge and passion.