Nebraska farmer Todd Reed wants the Environmental Protection Agency to stay out of his puddles.
Reed and other farmers and ranchers across the nation have both barrels aimed at a rule change under the Clean Water Act being proposed by the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
“At this point, we’re talking puddles as something that could be regulated by the EPA, and that is kind of scary, to be honest,” Reed said Tuesday.
In a show of solidarity, seven Nebraskan farm and ranch groups on Tuesday announced a coalition dubbed Common Sense Nebraska formed to fight the rule, which they called a power grab by the EPA.
“What the EPA is proposing would be very disruptive to farming and ranching,” Nebraska Farm Bureau Federation President Steve Nelson said. “What this proposal does goes well beyond what is necessary to control water quality, and it really begins to be a land control issue. It would affect every possible thing farmers and ranchers could do on the land.”
Nelson said the rule would erode local control and lead to federal regulation of everything from building fences to crop rotation to application of fertilizer and pesticides.
“We’re making a strong effort here to help people understand the best we can what the rule says and encouraging everyone to get involved here and comment on the rule,” he said.
Called the Waters of the U.S. rule, the proposal was announced March 25 and is still open to public comment. It lays out which waters the EPA and Corps have jurisdiction over for enforcement of regulations in the Clean Water Act.
The EPA has said the rule change wouldn’t extend protections to new types of water nor broaden coverage of the Clean Water Act. The agency says the rule would clarify confusing regulations and that protected waters include most seasonal streams and streams that exist only when it rains, as well as wetlands near rivers and streams.
Water with uncertain connections to downstream water would be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, the EPA says.
John Hansen of the Nebraska Farmers Union, which has not joined the Common Sense Nebraska Coalition, says he supports the EPA’s goals but isn’t sure the rule accomplishes them. He said critics of the rule have raised important questions that the EPA has not answered.
“The regulatory water related to the reach of the EPA continues to be muddy,” Hansen said. “Out of that vagueness has come a lot of the opposition, and they assume the worst.”
Hansen worries that if the EPA or Congress doesn't clarify issues in the Clean Water Act left hazy by past Supreme Court decisions, those issues eventually will be hashed out in a courtroom.
Sen. Mike Johanns co-sponsored a U.S. Senate bill earlier this month to block finalization of the rule. Johanns said the rule would expand federal regulatory authority beyond navigable waters and ignore congressionally imposed limits.
The bill, introduced with the support of 30 Republican senators, has been referred to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which has jurisdiction over water issues.
Members of the public have until Oct. 20 to comment on the rule. But the comment period for an accompanying interpretive rule detailing agricultural exemptions ends Monday.
Common Sense Nebraska members include Nebraska Cattlemen, Nebraska Corn Growers Association, Nebraska Farm Bureau Federation, Nebraska Pork Producers Association, Nebraska Poultry Industries, Nebraska Soybean Association and the Nebraska State Dairy Association.