Debate Heats up on Proposed EPA Water-Quality Rule

Source: Kate Campbell; Ag Alert

Discussion has intensified about proposed changes to the Federal Clean Water Act. As farmers and ranchers express increasing concern about enhanced permitting requirements, land-use restrictions and legal liability that the proposal could cause, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency launched its own campaign to defend the proposal.

Agricultural leaders want the EPA to scrap the proposed rule changes, terming them a poorly orchestrated attempt to expand agency jurisdiction. The proposed rule was published in April, and remains open to public comment until October.

County Farm Bureaus in California are joining the national push to have the proposed rule changes withdrawn, reaching out to members of the state’s congressional delegation and urging the proposal be stopped.

Meanwhile, the EPA called its proposals merely an effort to clarify regulatory jurisdiction, which was called for in two U.S. Supreme Court decisions that ruled against the agency’s attempt to expand its jurisdiction over “waters of the United States.” EPA said the proposed rule would have minimal economic impact and would not affect many acres—only about 1,300 acres nationwide.

The American Farm Bureau Federation called that assertion “laughable,” considering the amount of land nationwide that has the capacity to retain seasonal moisture, a condition covered by the proposed rule. Under the proposal, legal experts say, wet spots could be deemed “waters of the U.S.”

AFBF said the EPA effort to expand its jurisdictional authority over most types of waters and lands is regulatory overreach that has the potential to impose costly and time-consuming federal permit requirements, as well as place limits on routine farming practices, such as building a fence across a ditch or pulling weeds. Essentially, EPA has proposed regulations that fundamentally redefine “waters of the U.S.” and eliminate the term “navigable” from the law, AFBF said.

“We’re urging Congress to take a look at the proposed rules and we’re urging the agency to withdraw both of them,” California Farm Bureau Federation Federal Policy Manager Rayne Pegg said, referring to both the main EPA proposal redefining “waters of the U.S.” and an “interpretive rule” that focuses on agricultural activities.

Pegg stressed that farmers recognize the need to protect water quality, and already abide by a number of water-quality regulations.

“Adding another layer of regulation does not mean you will get better results,” she said. “Instead, the rule will create more paperwork. It’s a poorly conceived rule. EPA should meet with farmers and listen to its own Scientific Advisory Board to craft something that is practical.”

There are a number of things going on in Congress right now related to these rules, she said, and CFBF has been responding to questions from members of congressional committees—including the House Appropriations Committee, which is considering legislation to remove funding for implementation of the proposed waters of the U.S. rule.

In response to the uproar over the proposal, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy took to the road last week—touring a Missouri farm and meeting with a number of Kansas farm groups. She acknowledged during a lunch discussion with agricultural leaders the waters of the U.S. proposal has “fallen flat on its face.”

But during a speech in Kansas City, she charged that the EPA proposal has been beset by “D.C. myths.”

“Misinformation is becoming the story, while the legitimate, serious issues that we need to talk about are taking the back seat,” McCarthy said.

At the same time McCarthy visited the Midwest, the Natural Resources Defense Council—an environmental organization—took out advertisements supporting the EPA proposal.

Confusion about what the proposed rule may actually cover and conflicting interpretations of the rule changes may leave political leaders with the impression the proposal is benign and that farmers don’t need to worry, said CFBF associate counsel Kari Fisher.

“EPA would like political leaders and the public to believe that all farmers need to do is go ahead with normal farming practices and not worry about the proposed changes,” she said. “Unfortunately, that’s incorrect.”

Fisher said the interpretive rule on agriculture would require certain farming practices—such as putting in a new fence or maintaining a ditch—to comply with U.S. Department of Agriculture standards administered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service. She noted that the interpretive rule would apply only to Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, which covers dredging and infilling land that could affect wetlands.

But the proposed rule to expand the definition of “navigable waters” applies to the entire Clean Water Act, she said, and would expand EPA jurisdiction over water.

“If the proposed rule redefining waters of the U.S. is adopted, farmers with land that features a depression or low spot that’s adjacent to a tributary flowing to navigable water could be brought under the rule’s jurisdiction,” Fisher said.

Although the interpretive rule might provide a limited layer of protection for farming and ranching activities from the need to obtain Section 404 permits, she said, “it will not provide protection from other necessary Clean Water Act permits, such as those for the discharge of pollutants.”

Farm Bureau leaders continue to urge members to help prevent the proposed rule from becoming final by commenting about the impact the proposal would have on their farms and ranches.

Information from EPA on the proposed changes to the CWA can be found online at www2.epa.gov/uswaters. Background information on the issue from AFBF is online at http://ditchtherule.fb.org/.

For information on arranging local farm tours, grower roundtables and informational meetings with members and staff of California’s congressional delegation, contact county Farm Bureau offices or the CFBF Federal Policy Division at 916-561-5610.

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Legislation Update

The National Pork Producers Council reported today:

 

HOUSE POSTPONES ACTION ON AGRICULTURAL APPROPRIATIONS BILL

The House this week began considering the fiscal 2015 funding bill for Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies, but postponed a final vote on it so that Republicans can sort out their leadership issues in the wake of Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s decision to step down from his post after losing his primary election for the Virginia 7th Congressional District seat. The legislation includes $20.9 billion in discretionary money, which is equal to the fiscal 2014 level, and $121.3 billion for mandatory spending for federal food programs. NPPC helped secure in the House Appropriations Committee-approved bill language that prohibits USDA from implementing certain burdensome provisions included in the 2008 Farm Bill related to the buying and selling of livestock under the Grain Inspection and Packers and Stockyards Act. Additionally, Rep. Tom Latham, R-Iowa, requested and was able to include funding for research on porcine endemic diarrhea virus (PEDv) funding to better understand the transmission of the disease. NPPC is thankful of Rep. Latham and Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., for the inclusion of these important funds.

 

LIVESTOCK HAULERS RECEIVE ONE-YEAR EXEMPTION FROM DOT ‘HOURS OF SERVICE’ RULE

The U.S. Department of Transportation last Friday granted truck drivers hauling livestock and poultry a one-year exemption from an hours-of-service rule that took effect last July 1. The regulation requires truck drivers to take a 30-minute rest break after eight hours of service. For drivers transporting livestock and poultry, the hours of service included loading and unloading animals. NPPC hailed the move as a victory for animal welfare, as summer temperatures can cause livestock health problems, particularly for pigs, which do not sweat. NPPC is also appreciative of Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx for recognizing the importance of the issue for livestock farmers and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack for his efforts to secure the exemption. Click here to read the rule.

 

HOUSE COMMITTEE HOLDS HEARING AFTER COMMENT EXTENSION GRANTED

NPPC Chief Environmental Counsel Michael Formica drafted a petition signed by 72 other agricultural groups in support of an extension. Under EPA’s proposal, the agency would redefine the term “waters of the United States” to include intermittent and ephemeral streams, and expand jurisdiction into farm fields and farm drainage. This would significantly impact agricultural operations, requiring permits and giving activists and regulators authority to dictate farm production practices. Prior to issuing these extensions, NPPC hosted EPA representatives at the World Pork Expo to meet with the NPPC Board of Directors and learn firsthand about farming. EPA visited farms in North Central Iowa to better understand farmers’ concerns regarding the apparent impact of these proposals and the need to work together with farmers to clarify EPA’s intent and minimize the unintended impacts on farmers and ranchers who have worked their families land for generations.

 

SMALL BUSINESS EXPENSING LEGISLATION APPROVED

The House Thursday approved on a 277-144 vote H.R. 4457, the “America’s Small Business Tax Relief Act of 2014,” which would permanently extend the tax code’s small business expensing provision – Section 179 – at a level of $500,000. Since 2003, Congress increased the amount of investment that small businesses can expense from $25,000 to $500,000. Legislation expanding and/or extending the provision was enacted eight times, but the expensing limits were temporary, and, beginning in 2014, the amount reverted to $25,000. NPPC joined dozens of other agricultural and business organizations in urging House lawmakers to approve the tax legislation. In a June 9 letter to bill sponsors Reps. Pat Tiberi, R-Ohio, and Ron Kind, D-Wis., the groups said permanent extension of Section 179 would increase investment and jobs, reduce tax complexity and paperwork and alleviate uncertainty for business owners, farmers and ranchers.

 

SENATE AGRICULTURE COMMITTEE HOLDS HEARING ON CHILD NUTRITION PROGRAMS

The Senate Agriculture Committee Thursday held a hearing titled “A National Priority: The Importance of Child Nutrition Programs to our Nation’s Health, Much of the discussion focused on the military turning away recruits and discharging service members because of poor health (known as the “Too Fat to Fight” epidemic) as well as on how reduced school lunch programs help students perform better in school. Witnesses included U.S. Air Force (Ret.) General Richard Hawley; National Parent Teacher Association President Otha Thornton; Dr. Stephen R. Cook, associate professor at the University of Rochester Medical Center School of Medicine and Dentistry; and Francis Scott Key Middle School Principal Yolanda Stanislaus. Click here to read testimonies and watch the hearing. Congress is in the beginning stages of reauthorizing the national school lunch program, and NPPC continues to promote pork as a lean healthy protein that should continue to be included in school lunches.

 

HOUSE WAYS AND MEANS TRADE SUBCOMMITTEE HOLDS AGRICULTURE TRADE HEARING

The House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade Wednesday held a hearing titled “Advancing the U.S. Trade Agenda: Benefits of Expanding U.S. Agriculture Trade and Eliminating Barriers to U.S. Exports.” In his opening remarks, Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., voiced his concern that Japan was not being held to the standards that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a 12-nation free trade agreement (FTA) of Pacific Rim countries, set out to meet. “If any countries insist on retaining tariffs, then we must complete the negotiations without them and allow them to rejoin when they can commit to full tariff elimination,” said Chairman Nunes. Japan continues to demand certain products, including pork, be excluded from tariff elimination. In addition to being the largest value market for U.S. pork exports ($1.89 billion in 2013), Japan is the fourth largest market for the rest of U.S. agriculture, which shipped $12.1 billion of food and agricultural products to the island nation in 2013. A final TPP agreement that does not eliminate all tariffs and non-tariff barriers on U.S. pork products will negatively affect U.S. pork exports for the next 20 years, meaning billions of dollars less in U.S. pork sales and tens of thousands fewer U.S. jobs. For NPPC to support a final TPP agreement, Japan needs to eliminate all tariff and non-tariff barriers on U.S. pork and pork products NPPC expressed its concerns to the subcommittee in written testimony. To read testimonies from the hearing, click here.

 

DR. GAMBLE PARTICIPATES IN CODEX WORKING GROUP

Dr. Ray Gamble, president ex officio of the International Commission on Trichinellosis, traveled to Tokyo, Japan, May 28-30 to participate in meetings as part of the Codex Committee on Food Hygiene’s physical working group tasked with drafting a document on parasites in food. Dr. Gamble provided invaluable expertise to the US Delegation which was led by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). Currently, some trade partners such as the European Union and South Africa impose unnecessary trichinae mitigation steps on the United States’ pork industry.  According to Dr. Gamble’s studies, there is virtually no risk for trichinae in the United States. A Codex document that creates counterproductive international standards on parasites would be burdensome on the U.S. pork industry. NPPC looks forward to working with FSIS as this document develops.

 

NPB’S LARSEN TRAVELS TO FINLAND

Steve Larsen, National Pork Board’s Director of Pork Safety, traveled to Kirkkonummi, Finland, June 4-6 to participate in an informal scientific colloquium of researchers/university academics, industry and government officials to hear how countries use Hazard Analysis & Critical Control Points (HACCP) and their issues. The committee is planning to propose a new work item aimed at updating the Codex Alimentarius’s General Principles of Food Hygiene, more specifically its Annex on HACCP. The group of HAACP experts will draft a discussion paper on if there is a need to make revisions and will present their findings at the next CCFH meeting this November.

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