The National Pork Producers Council and 71 national and state agricultural organizations are requesting extensions of the comment periods on a proposed regulation and accompanying agricultural exemptions rule related to changes in the federal Clean Water Act (CWA) that could negatively affect farmers and ranchers.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in April issued a proposed rule that would greatly expand the agencies’ authority under the CWA over various waters. Currently, that jurisdiction includes “navigable” waters and waterways with a hydrologic connection to navigable waters.
The rule would redefine “waters of the United States” to include intermittent and ephemeral streams, which could potentially affect agriculture. Application of manure on lands near such streams, for example, could be considered a discharge and require a CWA permit.
In requesting the extensions, the agricultural groups pointed out that an EPA study of the connection between intermittent waters and wetlands and larger bodies of water has yet to be completed. They also said the timing of the comment period and stakeholder public meetings coincide with one of the busiest times for farmers, who are “preparing soil for planting, planting and replanting seed, applying crop nutrients and crop protection products, and harvesting hay and winter wheat crops.”
“For most farmers and ranchers,” said NPPC President Howard Hill, a veterinarian and hog farmer from Cambridge, Iowa, “more than two-thirds of the comment period for the proposed rule occurs when we are in the fields round the clock, not sitting at our computers reading regulatory proposals.”
The agricultural groups also raised in their request concerns that EPA has made during stakeholder meetings statements on the rules that it then has contradicted in public pronouncements, complicating the groups’ ability to develop meaningful comments.
The organizations are asking for an additional 90 days beyond the July 21, 2014, deadline for submitting comments on the proposed rule, or 90 days after EPA releases its “Connectivity Report,” which is supposed to serve as the scientific basis for any expansion of CWA jurisdiction. For the agricultural exemptions rule, the groups are requesting that the comment deadline coincide with the closing date for the proposed rule but be at least an additional 45 days beyond the current June 5, 2014, deadline.