SCOTUS (the Supreme Court of the US) has issued several conflicting rulings regarding WOTUS (the Waters of the US). These rulings have prompted the EPA (the Environmental Protection Agency) to issue a new Proposed Rule defining the WOTUS and a new Interpretive Rule interpreting what they consider are “normal farming practices.”
The WOTUS are defined in the Clean Water Act that passed Congress in the early 70s. Since then most people have defined the “waters of the United States” as just that, the large bodies of water that are navigable and/or hold ecological importance to a large swath of land, and thereby are under federal jurisdiction. WOTUS is not defined in the Clean Water Act as any water that may eventually end up in a navigable water. To the best of our knowledge, the new terminology in the Proposed Rule issued by the EPA will basically make any land feature that holds water or allows water to flow in it part of WOTUS. The technical jargon is in high form in the Proposed Rule, but anyone with a dictionary can look up the terms and realize what they mean. Again, this Proposed Rule will essentially make any land feature that holds or allows water to flow as part of the “waters of the US” and enforceable under the Clean Water Act.
The Interpretive Rule is another animal in itself. The Interpretive Rule was issued by the EPA and essentially became law the day it was issued. Executive Branch officials issue interpretive rules to clarify how a law is supposed to be implemented. The EPA’s Interpretive Rule lays out the ground work for making the NRCS the Ag Police. NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service) is a great organization and has a rich history of working hand-in-hand with Georgia agricultural producers to come up with the latest and greatest techniques and technologies to be implemented on farms. This Interpretive Rule, along with a Memorandum of Understanding between the EPA, NRCS, and the Army Corp of Engineers, gives new enforcement responsibilities to the NRCS, making them the Ag Police. We feel their new role as the Ag Police will strain the great relationship that has been built over the years between the NRCS and our great farmers in Georgia.
Now if you read the news or search for any of this online, you will see fiery rhetoric on both sides of the argument. The American Farm Bureau Federation has launched it’s “Ditch the Rule” campaign outlining its arguments against the Proposed and Interpretive Rules. We feel that the Farm Bureau has made very good arguments and are protecting the best interest of the farmer. The EPA fired back with its “Ditch the Myth” campaign as a rebuttal to the “Ditch the Rule.” First off, it concerns me that the EPA is USING TAX PAYER DOLLARS TO FIGHT AGAINST TAX PAYERS. Secondly, we welcome a conversation and discussion with the EPA regarding what they are saying about agricultural exemptions. Anyone who has ever been on a farm and understands the farm can read the proposed rule and see that either the EPA folks running the “Ditch the Myth” campaign have never been on a farm or haven’t actually read the Proposed Rule.
Luckily, the Georgia Cotton Commission, as well as many other ag groups, has been vocal and out front on this issue. We submitted a comment letter to the EPA regarding the Interpretive Rule. The letter can be found here. Also we were able to be featured in an article by the Atlanta Business Chronicle outlining our opposition to the Interpretive Rule. We will continue to voice our opposition to the Interpretive Rule making the NRCS the Ag Police and we look forward to digging through the Proposed Rule some more and commenting on that in the near future.