DESPITE Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy's best attempts to build a bridge to the agricultural community, she keeps finding herself burning bridges, especially when she called the industry's concerns with an EPA water rule "ludicrous" and "silly" ahead of her trip to a Missouri farm and agricultural stakeholder meeting in Kansas City, Mo.
Kansas Farm Bureau president Steve Baccus said it's disappointing to hear McCarthy dismiss the agriculture industry's reservations about the EPA waters of the U.S. and interpretive rule proposals as "ludicrous," especially when the public comment period is still open.
"In a democratic society, citizens have the right — and the responsibility — to speak up when government decisions impact their way of life. In turn, a government that derives its power from the governed must be willing to listen to its citizens and truthfully answer questions," Baccus said.
McCarthy spent plenty of time trying to correct what EPA characterized as myths and misconceptions from the agricultural community. Specifically, EPA said it has no intention of regulating ponds, puddles and groundwater nor every ditch.
For several months, the American Farm Bureau Federation has touted its Ditch the Rule website, at http://ditchtherule.fb.org, to highlight what it sees as concerns with EPA's proposal.
Now, EPA has created its own site to counter the "myths" being circulated. The agency's Ditch the Myth website, at www2.epa.gov/uswaters/ditch-myth, tries to outline how the proposed rule "cuts through red tape to make normal farming practices easier while also ensuring that waters are clean for human health, communities and the economy."
Ashley McDonald, National Cattlemen's Beef Assn. environmental counsel, said despite all the promises made by McCarthy and EPA in general, what matters are the words on paper, and EPA has currently given itself "enough leeway to find a puddle jurisdictional. ... The words you left off the paper make this proposal a trial lawyer's dream come true when it comes to farming and ranching operations."
When EPA released its proposed waters of the U.S. rule in the spring, the National Farmers Union (NFU) was one of the few agricultural groups to quickly praise the proposal. Now, in a letter to McCarthy, NFU said the general sense from its board is that the proposed rule has "created less clarity, not more, as intended."
In a July 15 call between the NFU board and McCarthy, NFU president Roger Johnson said a number of questions were posed, but the board "did not feel that its questions were adequately answered."
Johnson said it may not always be possible to answer definitively whether a specific body of water is considered a water of the U.S. because some determinations need to be made on a case-by-case basis. "However, to the extent possible, it is important to do everything you can to reduce confusion and anxiety surrounding jurisdiction," he said in the letter to McCarthy.
Johnson added that failure to do so will lead to more resentment in rural America.
EPA continues to claim that it's willing to work with agriculture to develop a rule everyone can be happy with, but agricultural groups are right to ask for more clarification in writing to make sure courts won't be doing the interpreting.