POLITICAL action on the Environmental Protection Agency's proposed waters of the U.S. rule keeps flowing, bringing a partial victory for agriculture when the controversial interpretive rule was withdrawn.
Also, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy was questioned for 3.5 hours during a joint House/Senate hearing on the proposed rule last Wednesday.
When EPA first proposed its water rule last spring, the accompanying interpretive rule was meant to be a way to drum up agriculture industry support.
Or, as American Farm Bureau Federation environmental specialist Don Parrish posited, was it really a bait and switch? Maybe EPA's desired result was creating two problematic raging rivers so as to generate a division over which one to try to fight first?
Congress successfully saved the raft from going over the falls, as the interpretive rule would have had detrimental impacts on farmers' conservation efforts, but now it's a race to see how far this regulation will get pushed between the end of the Administration's tenure and before the 2016 presidential election.
EPA will likely try to finalize the water rule as far ahead of the 2016 election as possible, Parrish said, explaining, "I know from a political standpoint, they have to try to ram it through, regardless of people's concerns, so that it doesn't get pulled into the campaign process going into 2016."
The comment period on the proposed water rule closed in November, and EPA officials continue to say they hope to have a final rule published by this spring.
It's interesting that despite receiving more than 1 million comments, EPA will try to rush out a final water rule in under six months, but with the renewable fuel standard, the proposal for 2014 levels has been stalled in EPA's hands for nearly a year-and-a-half.
Nearly two-thirds of U.S. states have called on EPA to either completely withdraw or significantly revise the proposed water rule.
Also, many top congressional committee leaders criticized EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers for the lack of state involvement in writing the proposal.
Legislation has been introduced in the House to prohibit EPA and the Corps from finalizing their rule. With Republicans controlling both chambers, bills potentially could pass in the House and Senate — even getting some help from Democrats — to keep the rule from going into effect.
The problem lies in getting a bill that's veto-proof, because President Barack Obama is unlikely to sit back and let that happen.
EPA still has time to do the right thing. McCarthy acknowledged that there's "still work to do before we publish the final rule," but the process was meant to "tee up a range of
ideas" to which stakeholders could respond during the rule-making progress.
It's important to stay engaged in the discussion and to call on associations and state and local partners to evaluate the effects of the rule.
"Farmers have a lot of concerns" about the water rule, Chip Bowling, National Corn Growers Assn. president, said. "What we need is clarity. The interpretive rule actually made things less clear. We hope that the withdrawal of the interpretive rule will allow us to get to the true matter at hand: how the Clean Water Act is administered."
Bowling has invited EPA officials to his Maryland farm and said it led to a productive conversation on the true impacts of the rule. He said regulations should be clear and workable for farmers.
"We need to continue that dialogue on (the water rule) and beyond. We can all agree that clean water is important. Farmers are committed to improving water quality and conservation practices," Bowling said.