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Ditch the myths, EPA administrator says

By Doug Rich

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy did her best to interpret the interpretive rule during a speech in Kansas City, Missouri, on July 10. McCarthy said the aim of the Clean Water Act proposal is clear, but farmers and ranchers around the country remain skeptical of this rule’s true intent. (Journal photo by Doug Rich.)

The message from Gina McCarthy, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), during a presentation before the Agricultural Business Council of Kansas City July 10 was to forget the myths and misinformation about the proposed interpretive rule for the Clean Water Act.

“Today I am here to talk about our Clean Water Act proposal, which was called for by the Supreme Court and by numerous state organizations as well as numerous agriculture stakeholder groups,” McCarthy said. “The aim of this proposal is clear: to clear up legal confusion and protect waters that are vital to our health, using sound science so that EPA can get its job done.”

McCarthy said it is clear what EPA is trying to accomplish with this rule, but unfortunately misinformation is becoming the story while the legitimate issues are taking a back seat. She hoped the trip she is on now will better explain EPA’s position and ease the mind of producers.

“You know, in D.C. we hear things like EPA’s new rule will shut down the July 4th fireworks, EPA is trying to regulate the rain in puddles on driveways and playgrounds, and every conservation practice that we all want to see happen will now require a permit,” McCarthy said. “None of that is true.”

Some people fear that with this new rule EPA will regulate groundwater. McCarthy said that was not true. Groundwater regulations will continue to fall under the purview of the states.

“EPA is not regulating all activities in floodplains, or every puddle, dry wash, or erosional feature,” McCarthy said. “In fact, we are doing just the opposite. If cattle cross a wet field, that is a normal farming practice and all normal farming practices are still exempt.”

The rule specifically lists 56 conservation practices that EPA believes are good for production and good for water quality. McCarthy said those 56 practices were listed in a attempt to clear the path for slam dunk conservation practices.

New exemptions are self-implementing, which means no one needs to notify or get approval from EPA or the Army Corps of Engineers. McCarthy said there is no need to double-check with anyone at any time for these exemptions.

“We did not narrow exemptions, those 56 are a subset to the existing exemptions for normal farming, ranching and silviculture,” McCarthy said. “That’s why we put them in a separate rule, so we could add to it as needed. No one should have to think twice about taking advantage of these conservation practices.”

“Some mistakenly think that this means additional federal standards with which to comply, but that is wrong,” McCarthy said. “Conservation practice standards are not federal regulatory standards. They just provide a roadmap for producers to make sure they are squeezing all they can out of their practice.”

What about ditches? McCarthy said EPA is not saying that all ditches are jurisdictional. According to McCarthy the proposed rule specifically says EPA is not regulating all ditches.

“While some ditches are connected to larger water systems and are vital to public health and water quality, the vast majority are not and therefore are not jurisdictional,” McCarthy said. “Most of them don’t look or feel like a stream, so they are off the table.”

Regardless of McCarthy’s reassuring meassage about the interpretive rule, there is still a lot of doubt in farm country about the intent of this rule. A comment released by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) after McCarthy’s speech in Kansas City sums up how many farmers and ranchers feel about the rule.

“The EPA claims they have made right with the agricultural community by interpreting their exemption to only include the ‘normal’ 56 NRCS practice standards, excluding all other Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) practice standards and all voluntary conservation activities,” said Ashley McDonald, NCBA environmental council. “By defining these very specific 56 practices, the interpretive rule only narrows the scope of what is considered normal farming and ranching practices. These practices, such as building fence or grazing cattle, never needed a permit before but now require oversight by NRCS and mandatory compliance with its standards.”

“The chilling effect on participating in conservation activities will be compounded when NRCS is seen as wielding the final say on whether a producer is in violation of the Clean Water Act or not,” said Bob McCan, NCBA president.

Doug Rich can be reached by phone at 785-749-5304 or by email at

Date: 7/21/2014


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