A rule proposed by the EPA and Corps of Engineers to define “waters of the United States” under the Clean Water Act will have a significant negative impact on rural America and production agriculture, said National Cotton Council (NCC) Chairman Sledge Taylor.
Taylor said the rule “would require costly federal permits for many commonplace and essential farming practices. This will result in farmers like myself being forced to endure even more costly regulations and place many of us at risk for fines from the agencies or facing a citizen suit for normal farming practices.”
Taylor was one of nine witnesses testifying during a public hearing conducted by the House Agriculture Committee’s Conservation and Forestry Subcommittee, to review the proposed rule and its impact on rural America.
Taylor, a multi-crop producer from Como, Miss., told the panel any revised rule needs to be released again for public comment.
According to an NCC release on the hearing, the rule as currently presented “creates confusion and risk by providing the EPA and the Corps of Engineers with almost unlimited authority to regulate, at their discretion, any low spot where rainwater collects, including common farm ditches, non-permanent drainages and agricultural ponds in and near farms across the nation.”
The proposed rule defines terms like “tributary” and “adjacent” in ways that Taylor said make it impossible for a farmer to know whether the specific ditches or low areas at their farm will be deemed “waters of the U.S.”
“These definitions are broad enough to give regulators and citizen plaintiffs plenty of room to assert that such areas are subject to Clean Water Act jurisdiction,” Taylor said. “The tens of thousands of dollars of additional costs for federal permitting of ordinary farming activities is beyond the means of most farmers and ranchers — the vast majority of whom are family-owned small businesses.”
Taylor said the agencies’ promise to make significant changes to the rule is a positive step, but encouraged the agencies to release the revised rule again for public comment.
“The Clean Water Act involves an extremely complex set of rules and regulations, and it is important for rural America to have ample input into any final rule,” he said.