Senator Max Baucus introduced alternative language in early June in an effort to mitigate the potentially harmful effect on agriculture of broader language proposed by the Clean Water Restoration Act. The bill, S.787 as introduced by Senator Feingold, could expand the authority of Environmental Protection Agency regulation under the Clean Water Act by eliminating the word 'navigable' from the definition of 'waters of the United States.' Senator Baucus' substitute amendment addresses several concerns of production agriculture and makes it explicitly clear that this bill will not expand the scope of jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act beyond the original intent of Congress.
A number of recent court rulings have struggled to define bodies of water that fall under federal jurisdiction and this legislation attempts to clarify the law. "We are pleased that Senator Baucus recognizes the importance of this bill to Montana grain producers and we appreciate the opportunity to provide input. We believe this amendment is an improvement over the Feingold language," said Bing Von Bergen, Montana Grain Growers Association President.
"Private property rights and public access are also a concern for Montana producers and landowners," Von Bergen added. "After many discussions with Montana ag representatives, Baucus included in his amendment the following: "nothing in this Act or any amendment made by this Act establishes any new right of access to private property for recreational purposes."
In addressing key concerns of the agricultural industry the Baucus amendment codifies the exclusion for prior converted cropland, strengthening the current exemption which is now only regulatory. It also ensures that the existing permitting exemptions for agriculture in the Clean Water Act remain intact, including the point source permit exemption for return flows from irrigated agriculture; the wetlands permit exemption for normal farming, silviculture, and ranching activities such as plowing, seeding, cultivating, minor drainage, harvesting for the production of food, fiber, and forest products, or upland soil and water conservation practices; and the wetlands permit exemption for the construction or maintenance of farm or stock ponds or irrigation ditches, or the maintenance of drainage ditches.
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW) is expected to take action on this bill in middle June. MGGA will continue to work with Senator Baucus as this bill progresses addressing the concerns of Montana wheat and barley producers.
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