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Senators write letter over Waters of the United States proposal

Farm SubsidiesWASHINGTON, D.C. – The new agriculture rule released in conjunction with the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) proposal could fundamentally alter interaction between farmers and the federal government and should be immediately withdrawn, U.S. Senator Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) and Republican members of the Senate Agriculture Committee asserted yesterday.

Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Cochran, Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), John Hoeven (R-N.D.), Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and John Thune (R-S.D.) have asked the Environmental Protection Agency, Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide an update on implementation of the agriculture Interpretive Rule and requested its immediate withdrawal.

“We have heard from farmers, ranchers and other rural constituents about the Interpretive Rule and are deeply concerned it has created great confusion about what agriculture activities are exempt from regulation under the Clean Water Act,” the senators wrote in a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, Army Secretary John McHugh and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

The WOTUS regulations, issued jointly by the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers, would bring more waters, including streams, creeks, wetlands, ponds and ditches, under the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act making them subject to EPA permitting requirements. The agriculture Interpretive Rule outlines just 56 activities out of more than 160 conservation practices that previously qualified for the normal farming and ranching exemption.

In their letter, the senators say the Interpretive Rule should be withdrawn because farming, ranching and rural constituencies had little opportunity to have input on the new rule.

“Beyond adding confusion and uncertainty, the Interpretive Rule would fundamentally change the relationship between the Department of Agriculture and farm families. Over decades of farm policy, USDA has established an unprecedented relationship of trust with farmers, ranchers, and rural stakeholders. This unique relationship is built on voluntary conservation programs and a mutual commitment to protecting natural resources and keeping land in agriculture.  Bringing USDA into the Clean Water Act permitting process would profoundly shift the nature of this successful approach by dismantling a longstanding partnership between the Federal government and agriculture community,” the senators wrote.

The correspondence is the latest step taken by Republican members of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee to raise concerns with the Obama administration about the WOTUS initiative. The proposed regulatory scheme was a central topic when the senators met with McCarthy in July to discuss the effect of aggressive EPA regulatory expansion on agriculture and rural states.

Now, the senators continue to call for more transparency and stakeholder involvement.

“As the Administration continues to extend the timeframe for finalization of the flawed WOTUS proposal, any further discussion of how agricultural activities may fit into this framework must allow for a transparent and public process in which the voice of American agriculture can be heard,” the senators’ letter concluded.

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