Jack Field, cattle rancher and Washington Cattlemen's Association executive vice president, on Thursday testified before the House of Representatives Small Business Committee to discuss impacts of the U.S. EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers' proposed definition of "Waters of the U.S." for rural America.
Field, who owns and operates a cattle operation in Washington, told the committee the cattle industry prides itself on being good stewards of our country's natural resources.
"We maintain open spaces, healthy rangelands, preserve wildlife habitat, and provide the country with the juicy ribeyes we all love to throw on the grill," he said. "However, to provide all these important functions, cattlemen must be able to operate without excessive federal burdens."
The National Cattlemen's Beef Association believes the proposed definition of "waters of the United States" expands the federal jurisdiction to include essentially all waters across the country, subjecting landowners to increased regulation and fines of up to $37,500 per day.
The increase in liability will chill landowner participation in conservation activities by making the Natural Resources Conservation Service a regulatory compliance agency, NCBA says.
Field testified that the EPA and the Corps' interpretive rule would make NRCS standards mandatory for all conservation activities, despite whether they are voluntary or cost-shared.
"This didn't have to be the result," said Field. "All the agencies had to do was engage stakeholders early on in the process, incorporate our suggestions and we would be much farther along in crafting a rule that actually clarifies the scope of Clean Water Act jurisdiction. There was zero outreach to the agriculture community before the rule was proposed and before the interpretive rule went into effect. We are now left with a proposal that doesn't work for small businesses, doesn't work for cattle ranchers, and doesn't work for the environment."
The comment deadline for the rule is July 21, 2014.