The EPA and Army Corps of Engineers late Friday issued a memorandum of understanding to withdraw the Waters of the U.S. Interpretive Rule, which outlines which conservation activities provide farmers an exemption from Clean Water Act permitting.
Congress requested that EPA and Army Corps withdraw the IR in its "Cromnibus" funding legislation, passed in December.
Many farm groups opposed the Interpretive Rule, which offered 56 "normal farming and ranching" exemptions under the regulations of the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Opponents of the rule said using these practices as CWA exemptions would alter farmer-NRCS interaction and discourage environmental best practices. Historically, they have been voluntary, and the farming practices have been exempt from the permit process.
"Our concern with the initial proposal from last year is that it could have altered the long-standing and productive relationship between farmers and the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service, in a way that would have made it harder for farmers to implement water conservation measures," Jamie Jonker, vice president for sustainability and scientific affairs for the National Milk Producers Federation, said in statement Monday.
In addition to farm group support for withdrawing the rule, some members of Congress also supported its demise. Republican members of the Senate Ag Committee last October suggested that the IR would move the NRCS into an enforcement role, rather than begin a trusted source for conservation assistance.
In a letter last fall, the senators said the proposal also could "fundamentally change the relationship between the Department of Agriculture and farm families."
The IR withdrawal notice was effective Jan. 29. The Waters of the U.S. proposal, however, continues to be considered by EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers. The final comment period on the full proposed WOTUS rule closed Nov. 14.
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